The Moon and the Holidays

Friday, 20 May, 2016 - 1:33 pm

The Moon and the Holidays

Who should take the first step? 

Eventually every relationship will reach a point where it will need to be strengthened. Someone will have to apologize, offer a compliment, or purchase flowers. Someone will have to make a move to strengthen the bond, and reconnect.

In a troubled relationship, it often happens that each person refuses to take the first step toward reconciliation and renewed friendship. In the troubled relationship, each party tells themselves “sure, I am not perfect, I need to apologize for my part of the mess, but let the other person apologize first for their far more significant part of the fight“. What separates a good relationship, one that will endure and thrive, from the troubled one, is that in the good relationship each person understands that there are times when they will have to make the first move.

The same is true of our relationship with G-d. In this week's Torah portion we read about the holidays, G-d tells Moses:

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them:.. these are the Lord's appointed [holy days], holy occasions, which you shall designate in their appointed time.[1]

The Biblical word for Holiday is “Moed” which means: “appointed time for meeting”. The holidays are times designated for rejuvenation. They are times when we break from the daily grind, and carve out a place in time to meet our beloved, and rededicate ourselves to the strengthening of our relationship with G-d. There are various holidays, each representing a phase in the relationship, these phases are expressed by the phase of the moon on the night of the given holiday.

Some of the holidays represent G-d’s kindness to the Jewish people, they represent the man who makes it his business to step in and take responsibility for the relationship. While other holidays represent the woman who does not wait for the man’s courtship, but rather she takes the initiative and reaches out to her beloved.  

Indeed, to learn all we need to know about our relationship with the Divine, all we need to do is look at the phase of the moon on each of the Jewish holidays.

Passover and Sukkot both begin on the fifteenth  of the Hebrew month when the moon is full. Passover and Sukkot celebrate the exodus from Egypt when G-d “took the first step”, and pulled us out of Egypt with only minimal effort on our part. Just as the full moon fully reflects the light of the sun, so do Passover and Sukkot represent the divine kindness and inspiration in its fullest form.

In contrast to the fullness of the moon on Passover and Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, the new year, is on the first day of the Hebrew month when the moon is barely visible. Rosh Hashanah, represents the bride, the people of Israel, taking the first step. On Rosh Hashanah we don't celebrate any miracles or divine inspiration. Roshe Hashanah is the time when G-d, the groom, takes no action. He waits for the people of Israel to call out to him. He waits for them to take the first step and sound the Shofar, which represents the people’s commitment to return to G-d, and amend the strained bond. Thus, on Rosh Hashanah almost none of the sun’s light is reflected by the moon, for Rosh Hashanah is the day that the people are supposed to initiate the inspiration.         

And then there is the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. On Shavuot both the bride and the groom act in partnership, as Shavuot represents G-d’s descent unto mount SInai to gift the people with the awesome gift of the Torah, as well as the commitment of the people to accept and follow the words of the Torah. Shavuot is on the sixth day of the Hebrew month, when half the moon is visible. Shavuot represents the partnership between bride and groom, G-d will descend, his will and wisdom will shine forth through the words of the Torah, yet the moon is not complete, because, on Shavuot, G-d is only half the story. The people’s acceptance of the Torah is just as integral a part of the story.

Next time you’re on your way to a holiday dinner, look up at the moon and you’ll know all you need to know about who should take the first step.


[1] Leviticus 23:2-4 

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