Bo (this week I dare say as in Bowie) – Far Above the Moon

This week’s Parshah (Torah Portion), Parshat Bo, mentions the Mitzvah (Commandment) of Kidush Hachodesh, the Mitzvah of sanctifying the month according to the Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 4. It can be found in the Torah in Shemot (Exodus) Chapter 12 lines 1 and 2. The mitzvah of Kidush Hachodesh results in us having the Jewish holiday of Rosh Chodesh which marks the first day of the new Hebrew month. The first day of the new month is based on when the new moon comes. All of this forms the basis for the entire Jewish calendar, which all of the Jewish holidays are dependent on.

To truly understand the importance of the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, we need to examine the story of the creation of the moon and the sun in the Torah. The story can be found in Bereishit (Genesis) Chapter 1, lines 14 and 15: God creates two lights that appear to be equal in strength and are responsible for separating day and night, as well as for marking the holidays, days, and years. Though the Torah does not name these lights, we can assume that the light of the night is the moon and the light of the day is the sun. In line 16, the Torah does make a distinction between the lights: God pronounces the light of the day (the sun) to be the greater light and the light of the night (the moon) to be the lesser light.

What causes the change from the apparent equality of the sun and the moon in lines 14-15 to the dominance of the sun in line 16? In Judaism, the moon plays a more dominant role in marking holidays and determining the calendar. Why, then, does God pronounce the sun to be dominant over the moon? The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us a story intimately connected to these lines from the Torah in Chullin 60b. When the sun and moon were created, the Rabbis tell us, they indeed were equal. However, the moon asked God, “Is it possible for two kings to utilize the same crown?” There cannot be two lights that rule the sky; one must be dominant.

In the story, God seems to have heard the question as a display of the moon’s arrogance and punished the moon by having the moon diminish itself. The moon responded, “Is it fitting that because I said a correct thing before You that I must diminish myself?” The moon explained that it was not being arrogant and simply was stating a fact: There cannot be two kings. God, heeding the moon’s words, rescinded the punishment and made the moon more dominant than the sun in determining the calendar and holidays. God also instructed the Jewish people to prepare a “chaparah,” an atonement sacrifice, on God’s behalf. In other words, according to the Talmud, God acknowledged that God “committed a sin” against the moon. The sacrifice was offered every Rosh Chodesh and is fulfilled today by offering the Musaf prayer (the additional prayer) on Rosh Chodesh. Perhaps in telling this story, the Rabbis of the Talmud wished to offer a new way of looking at God. The story portrays a God who can “commit a sin” and “do teshuva” (repentance)–a startling new way to look at God and certainly, an awesome model for our own practice of teshuva.

The Rabbis told the story to embellish the description of the creation of the sun and the moon in the Torah. Their embellishment created a moment in time in which the Jewish people could look at God in a different way and that moment is commemorated each Rosh Chodesh. On a more general level, think about the way the moon renews itself each month. This can be seen as a model for the way we might renew our relationship with God. While we should always be working on our relationship with God, Rosh Chodesh gives us a formalized monthly way to do this.

Not long ago, I was studying this concept with a student, one who had experienced many tragedies in her life, and she asked for guidance in trying to use Rosh Chodesh as a way to renew her relationship with God. It was very difficult for her to reconcile the traumas in her life with her vision of God, a vision in which God is directly involved in the events of the world. She was having a true crisis of faith. With sensitivity and support, I tried to help this woman to re-envision God. I explained that it is possible to envision a God who is not directly involved in the events of the world (This is not to say that the vision of God being directly involved in the events of the world is incorrect, visions of God are infinite). Therefore we are able to, and perhaps need to, utilize as many visions of God as possible. In a vision of God where God is not directly involved in the events of the world, God gives us hope when all we feel is despair, strength when all we feel is weakness and love when all we feel is hate. God gives us these blessings, and with these blessings we have the ability to make miracles happen. Let us strive to use each month’s new light to look at God in new ways. In so doing, together with God, we can renew each other.

An explanation of this week’s title: Bo (this week I dare say as in Bowie) – Far Above the Moon

We are all aware of the sad news of the death of rock legend, David Bowie. It is wild that this week’s Parsha is Bo (this week I dare say, as in Bowie), what a way to pay tribute to the great David Bowie.  Bowie’s, “Space Oddity” works well with my teaching this week, as it has a lyric at the end of the song, “Here, am I floating round my tin can, far above the Moon, Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.'”

To watch the Space Oddity video and hear the song, click HERE