Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Question: Why do we say Shalom Aleichem at Kiddush Levana, when we bless the new moon, and why do we do so three times? Is it because we have not seen a new moon for a whole month? Can you explain a little more about this mitzvah?

Ira Warshansky
Philadelphia, PA

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Synopsis: Last week we discussed the biblical source of the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, the first commandment given to the Jewish people as a nation. The correct timing of the months is important because of the necessity to keep the festivals in their proper seasons. To ensure accurate understanding of the beginning of the month, G-d Himself showed Moses an example of the new moon. Finally, we looked at why the verses recited when we bless the new moon are recited three times. We offered other examples of matters that are repeated three times such as the nullification of vows and warnings that involve capital punishment. We also referred to Bnei Yissas’char, who cites the Gemara (Chulin 60b) where we find the moon’s complaint to G-d, and G-d’s pacification of the celestial sphere.

Answer: We noted that in our blessing of the moon we request that its light be repaired to its wholeness and that the light of the moon be like the light of the sun, resulting in a restoration of harmony.

How do we understand this harmony? Let us examine the verses that detail the creation of the luminaries (Genesis 1:14-16) “Vayomer Elokim yehi me’oros birkia ha’shamayim lehavdil bein hayom u’vin halayla v’hayu l’osos u’l’moadim u’l’yomim Ishani – And G-d said, ‘Let there be luminaries in the firmament of heaven to divide day from night; and let them serve as signs, and seasons, for days, and years... And let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth, and it was so.” And G-d made the two great lights, the greater lights to rule by day and the lesser light to rule by night, and the stars.

It is clear that while Hashem wished to create a difference between night and day, He also wished to create two large luminaries. And thus He did create them in that manner, and it was the moon that went forth with the argument that “two kings cannot wear one crown (as we cited from the Gemara, Chullin 60b).”

It would seem plausible that these two luminaries were each created equal in light output and initially were to shine with brilliance by day and jointly diminish their light to create night. However, when the moon put forth its argument Hashem told the moon to diminish, and separated the two; the sun to rule by day and the moon to rule by night. The Gemara notes that after the moon’s diminishment it argued, “Because I put forth a good argument I have been punished with being diminished?” Hashem thus sought many means of appeasement and added the stars as an accompaniment to the moon as a means of displaying its mastery over all the other night lights.

The Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:1) states: “In the days of Enoch the people committed a great mistake, and even the wise men of that generation engaged in foolish counsel. And even [the righteous] Enoch was from those who were in error. And this was their mistake; they said since Hashem created the stars and had them traverse the sky in order to lead and serve the world and He placed them on high giving them a place of honor, and they serve before Him, they are worthy of praise and exaltation and to be given honor; and this is the will of G-d, that we elevate and honor those that He has elevated and given honor, just as a king would wish to honor those in attendance on him; as such is the honor of the king. Since this became their accepted understanding, they then began to build edifices to the many stars and offered sacrifices to them, all the while glorifying them and offering praise to them, and prostrating themselves toward them, in order to achieve the acceptance of the Creator through their evil understanding. This was the main source of avodat kochavim – [lit. ‘star worship’] idolatry.

Indeed, pagan worship until our time attaches sanctity to the various objects that they deify. I wish not to enter a discussion of the various “monotheistic” faiths, which err in this regard as well. However, we know that there is only one Creator, Hashem, and our G-d. He is unique – He is Echad, one and only. In fact, I believe there may be an etymological connection of the word G-d and Echad as its source.

I wish to offer a novel interpretation for our prayer that we request that the Moon return to its former intended glory and why we intone “Shalom Aleichem” three times.

At creation, G-d created the two luminaries to jointly rule the skies, day and night. Why? Because it is only G-d who is unique to His creation and it is Him that we are to serve. He wished that there be none in His creation that was unique that could be looked upon as the source of all creation. When the moon questioned serving jointly with the sun, because, as the moon justly asked, “Can two kings share one crown? Is it possible for them to jointly rule?” G-d responded that the moon must diminish. This is where Moon worship and Sun worship came about. This is not that dissimilar to what the Rambam is saying, but I believe it takes the matter a step further and to the very core of idol worship.

Now, as to intoning “Shalom Aleichem,” the Gemara (Shabbos 10b) citing the prophets (Judges 6:23), states that Shalom shmo shel HaKadosh Boruch Hu – Shalom is one of G-d’s names. Shalom means peace when there is tranquility, when all is in place, a state of wholeness – shleimut. The moon, by diminishing, caused a gap that keeps that shleimut at bay. Thus, we pray for the restoration of that gap and the return of the wholeness, when as the Kiddush Levana concludes with the words of the prophet (Hosea 3:5) “U’bikshu et Hashem Elokeihem v’eit Dovid Malkam – They shall seek their Eternal Hashem, their G-d and David [His anointed] their king.” It is this we pray for each month as we welcome a new moon, that perhaps the small sliver will wax to the point of its original state. May we deserve, may it be His will.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.