The New Moon: A Time for God to Atone

I want to open my discussion about Rosh Chodesh with a passage from Tractate Chullin 60b.

Rabbi Shim’on ben Pazi pitted one against another: “God made the two big lights” (Genesis 1:16a) and “the big light… and the small light” (Genesis 1:16b)!

The moon said before the Blessed Holiness: “Ruler of the World! Is it possible for two kings to wear the same crown?”

He said to her: “Go and make yourself smaller!”

She said before Him: “Ruler of the World! Because I said something reasonable before You, I am to make myself smaller!?”

He said to her: “Go and rule by day and by night.”

She said to him: “What importance does that have? What use is a lamp in daylight?”

He said to her: “Go, and the Jewish people will reckon days and years by you.”

She said to Him: “It is impossible for them not to reckon seasons by Day also, since it is written, ‘And they will be for signs and for set times and for days and years’!” (Genesis 1:14)

“Go, and holy people will be named after you: Small Jacob [see Amos 7:2], Small Shmuel [a sage of the Talmud], Small David [see I Samuel 17:14].”

Seeing that she had not been appeased, the Holy One, Blessed Be He said [to the Jewish people]: “Bring an atonement sacrifice for Me, because I made the moon smaller.”

That is to say, bring a sacrifice to atone for God’s sin.

Rashi expounds, in his commentary on Megillah 22b, that Rosh Chodesh is a woman’s holiday, given to the Jewish woman as a gift for refusing to participate in creating the Golden Calf, but there may be other reasons why women are supposed to celebrate this holiday more than men.

וְהָיָה אוֹר-הַלְּבָנָה, כְּאוֹר הַחַמָּה

“And the light of moon will be like the light of the sun.” (Isaiah 30:26)

There is no doubting that the ancient world was sexist. It was sexist in absolutely every faith at that time. Yet, even so, Judaism was already discussing what to do to aide the plight of women. In a time when women could simply be discarded, the Rabbis instituted the ketubah, which guaranteed either martial rights, or a year’s living wage. Recognizing the hardship certain mitzvot imposed on women before birth control was invented, the Rabbis gave her exemptions. It was progressive for 2000 years ago, but even at that time, it was essentially recognized that the solution wasn’t perfect.

Many Chassidic Jews believe that women gaining equal rights with men is the fulfillment of this verse from Isaiah, a promise from our Deity to correct the mistakes of early human history.

During the New Moon, Elokim comes to us, as women, to atone for His sins against us.

For women, it is a propitious time to approach our God. However, according to Kabalistic tradition, in accordance with  the teachings of the Zohar, it is dangerous for men to approach the Presence of God during this time. The Moon (Shekhina) takes on the aspect of Judgment toward them. The part of God that is female is angry with men for the degradation of womankind which happened in years past, and which continues to happen. She is angry that we aren’t paid fairly for our work, She is angry that we are objectified, She is angry that we are denied equal power for our equal potential. Is it any surprise that they should avoid Her? The part of God that is male approaches women in the spirit of contrition, He is sorry for all of those things.

I’d like to take this a step further and talk about others whom history has wronged, and who have been marginalized in Judaism: the LGBT community. It is time for a repair between the notion that God created these people exactly as they are, and the notion that God will not accept them as such. It is a time for all who have been diminished –as the moon was diminished– by history to entreat Hashem for equality in Judaism and globally.

It is a time to honor our Deity’s ability to recognize His own faults, and to bring grievances. It is a time for forgiveness.

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