Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk
from Shnei Luchot HaBrit
month shall be for you." (Ex. 12:2)
to sanctify the new moon and to arrange for leap years when necessary is designed
to ensure that the various holidays set out in the Torah occur in their respective
seasons. Passover must occur in spring; Sukkot in autumn. Leap months and leap
years were determined by calendar calculation even during the eras when the appearance
of the new moon was confirmed by visual observation.
factors were not ignored. We have a tradition that the luminaries symbolize a
two-faced concept [such as Adam and Eve before Eve was separated from Adam by
G-d. Ed.]. The moon receives its light only from the sun. The secret of when the
moon renews itself is when it is positioned close to the sun. (This statement
needs a detailed analysis. I have dealt with it in my commentary on tractate Pesachim
under the heading Torah Ohr, sub-category Rosh Chodesh.)
observe the New Moon more than their husbands, since, symbolically speaking, the
moon (as the lesser of the luminaries) remains on the wane for no more than seven
days before it begins to shine again. Similarly, a menstruating woman becomes
pure again after seven days.
The normal menstrual cycle of
a woman is thirty days, similar to the cycle of the moon. We find in the Midrash
Ha-nee-elam of the Zohar Chadash that whereas the gentile nations arrange their
calendar according to the orbit of the sun, the Jewish people count according
to the orbit of the moon. At first glance we would have thought that the opposite
should be true. When G-d told the moon to diminish itself, the moon was not placated
until told that Israel would use it for its calendar calculations (Chulin 60).
The moon was also promised that the righteous would
bear its name. This is a metaphor and means that Israel walks in darkness in this
world, whereas the nations of the world walk in light. The moon in this world
shines only at night when it is dark. When Israel is in exile it experiences an
existence similar to that of the moon. Just as the moon, despite its temporary
eclipse, re-emerges and shines, so will Israel re-emerge after its exile. The
blackness [absence of moonlight. Ed.] of the moon is an allusion to its being
in mourning over the fate of Israel in exile.
(15:26) makes the point that there were 15 generations from Abraham to King Solomon.
These generations represented the rising star of the Jewish people, similar to
the first half of the month when the moon is in its ascendance. After Solomon,
the star of the Jewish people began to decline, much like the moon towards the
end of the month. King Zedekiah was the 29th generation after Abraham, and it
was during his life that the Temple was destroyed, that the light of the Jewish
nation was eclipsed. The fact that King Zedekiah had his eyes gouged out by the
Babylonians further re-enforces the allegory between the moon and the fortunes
of the Jewish people.
There will come a time, however,
when the light of the moon will be as brilliant as that of the sun, when G-d and
His Name will be one, when a new light will shine over Zion. The formula used
in our benediction when we recite the prayer for sanctification of the moon each
month contains the words "a crown of glory to those burdened from birth".
We refer to the Lord who bade the moon to renew itself, "a crown of glory
to those burdened from birth, who are likewise destined to renew themselves just
like the moon, and to glorify their Maker because of the glory of His kingdom."
I have dealt with this in the chapter mentioned earlier.
subject of the orbit of the moon, the fixing of leap months and leap years, is
also related to aspects of the transmigration of souls. The appearance and disappearance
of one generation after another reminds one of the lunar cycles. Our sages have
jealously guarded what is called "the secret of leap years", the mechanics
of how and under what conditions to declare these leap years and leap months.
(See Ketubot 112, based on Ezekiel 13:9. A collegium of seven scholars would deal
with this issue in a closed session; normal sessions were open to the disciples
Isaiah Horowitz the Shelah b. 5320 (1560 CE) in Prague; d. 5390 (1630 CE) in Jerusalem,
where he served as chief rabbi. Author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit, hence the acronym
SHeLaH, a work of commentary and halacha.
Munk was born in Frankfurt, emigrated to England as a young man and then to Toronto.
After retiring from education and moving to Israel in 1978, he began an extraordinary
second career as a translator, publishing English versions of the Torah commentaries
of Rebbeinu Bachya, Akeidat Yitzchak, the Shelah, the Alshich and the Ohr Hachayim.