Pekude - PARSHAT HACHODESH
WHEN WE bentch Rosh Chodesh, sanctifying the coming Hebrew month, it is customary to announce the molad, to inform the Congregation of the exact moment when the moon will appear for the first time in the new month. Then, sometime before mid-month when the moon can be clearly seen, a quaint but beautiful ritual, known as kiddush levanah, is observed in which we offer thanks to God for having created the moon to shed light and loveliness during the night.
This morning I would like to discuss with you a brief prayer which I repeated during that observance. "May it be thy will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, to fill the deficiency of the moon, so that it may no longer be reduced in size. May the light of the moon again be like the light of the sun, as it was during the first seven days of creation, before its size was reduced .. ." (Prayer Book).
Think of it! Jews have always been beset with serious problems and anxieties, hounded and persecuted. Even this day there are so many issues and troubles that demand our serious attention. There is, first and foremost, the problem of the survival of the State of Israel, followed by the question of how to bring about a semblance of order in the chaotic condition in the religious life of American Jewry. Then there is the tragedy of the growing rate of intermarriage, the curse of disunity in our ranks and the lack of reliable and sound leadership. And all we can think to pray for at the time of kiddush levanah is for an improvement in the luminosity and condition of the moon!
My explanation is that the Jew has always had a close afinity to and a sense of identification with the moon. The sages viewed the destiny of Israel and the moon and saw a significant relationship between them. When the Jew prayed for improvement in the condition of the moon, he also had in mind the good and welfare of his people.
One of the chief characteristics of the moon is its total dependence on the sun. It is a satellite that revolves around and reflects the light of the sun, without which it would have no luminosity or beauty.
The Jew looked upon himself and his galut experience and concluded that he, too was only a satellite of other nations. His fate and destiny depended to a large extent on the grace, fairness, and generosity of others. Like the moon, the period of his illumination and peace has been limited and brief. After a few bright years in his history, when the nations among whom he dwelt were tolerant and kind, there suddenly descended thick clouds of hatred and scorn on the horizon which darkened his existence and blinded his life. This happened in Spain where for a brief period he enjoyed a "golden age," only to be engulfed by the night of the inquisition and to be burned alive on the auto da fe' and to be ultimately expelled from the land.
This pattern repeated itself in almost every land in which he sojourned for the past two millenia. It happened in Portugal, England, France, and the Middle East. The only notable exception was Holland which was always tolerant and friendly to the Jew.
When the Jew prayed through the centuries "for the light of the moon again to be like the light of the sun," he was beseeching God to grant the Jewish people the blessings of independence and security. He was entreating the Almighty to permit the return of the Jew to the homeland of his ancestors where he would no longer be a satellite of any other people, but master of his own destiny.
With the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, that prayer was partially answered. I say partially because Israel still has to depend on the goodwill and support of Powers who are, to put it mildly, not always friendly to Jews. Israel is surrounded by millions of archenemies whose ambition it is to annihilate and destroy her. Four times in thirty years they have waged all-out war on Israel and have failed, and we hope that the day will never come when their designs will succeed. The Jew continues to pray for the glorious period of a secure and luminous life in the land of his fathers.
This prayer applies with equal relevance and force to the spiritual condition of our people. Like the moon, we borrow too much from others. Our thoughts, practices and beliefs are influenced and colored by the non-Jewish environment in which we live. We "knock on wood" instead of kissing the mezuzah. We avoid "number thirteen" like a plague, instead of pronouncing "the thirteen principles of Jewish faith." We have elaborate Christmas dinners instead of pronouncing the blessings on Chanukah lights.
At Jewish public functions, even at Yeshiva Dinners, one or more Christian dignitaries are invited to lecture to us on how to be good Jews.
The other day a prominent Catholic prelate was invited to address a Jewish audience. He delivered a talk in which he gave his approval to ecumenical marriages, providing the children will be brought up in the Catholic Faith. Alluding to years of persecution of Jews by the Church, he dismissed it as a "lovers' quarrel."
That this was an unfair and untrue statement did not seem to bother that gentleman much. If I were present at the meeting and given an opportunity to respond, I would have asked him why "the lovers" did not speak up for us during the 1940s when more than six million Jewish men, women and children were gassed and butchered in Europe? Why didn't he and his fellow "lovers" cry out in 1957 when Nasser threatened to drive the Jews of Israel into the sea? Why the deafening silence on the part of "the lovers" in 1973 when Egypt, Syria and other Arab Nations attacked Israel on the day of Yom Kippur?
Ah yes! Long enough have we been satellites, currying the favor and approval of those who do not really love us. Too long have we been dependent on others. So we pray now, as we have done for many generations, lemalot pegimot ha'levanah, that physically and spiritually we become like Chamah, the sun, totally independent and secure in our destiny and in our faith.