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15. The Meaning of Birkat Ha-levana

In Birkat Ha-levana (the Berakha of the Moon), we thank God for creating the moon, from whose light we benefit at night.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Av 16 5781

In Birkat Ha-levana (the Berakha of the Moon), we thank God for creating the moon, from whose light we benefit at night. Many Jews have attached special honor and affection to this berakha, as it alludes to deep concepts concerning the Jewish people. We will explain some of these concepts here.

Of all the heavenly bodies, the moon is most similar to us. Just as a person’s life is filled with ups and downs, the moon waxes and wanes through the course of each month. In the middle of the month, the moon appears full, but as it nears the end of the month it dwindles and disappears. And just as Adam, the first man, gave in to his pride and desires and ate from the Tree of Knowledge and was punished, the moon was not satisfied being equally luminous as the sun, asking instead to rule over it (see above, section 5). In retribution for the moon’s arrogance, God reduced its light and even created the lunar cycle in which it wanes every month, eventually disappearing for an entire day. However, unlike man, who eventually fades away and dies, the moon remains part of the heavenly hosts and is fixed and everlasting, always regenerating itself. The Jewish people have the exact same qualities. On the one hand, they lead normal human lives, which include ups and downs, a good inclination as well as an evil inclination. On the other hand, their connection to faith and God is everlasting. Therefore, unlike other nations, the Jewish people will endure forever. We connect to this idea of Israel’s immortality through Birkat Ha-levana, which we recite upon seeing the moon reappear and begin to grow anew every month.

Moreover, not only do we manage to survive despite all the hardships that we experience, we actually advance to a higher level as a result of each crisis and setback. King David taught us how to transform each setback into an impetus for greater growth. The Sages relate that David was the lowliest of his brothers, growing up in the fields among the animals, but he succeeded in maturing and improving from every experience. Even after his difficult fall in the sin of Bat-Sheva, he did not despair. Rather, he repented completely, to the point where the Sages say that “he established the yoke of repentance” (Mo’ed Katan 16b). David transformed his awful failure into tremendous self-improvement, and ever since then we learn from him the ways of repentance and the true extent of its power. By virtue of his repentance, David’s kingdom is everlasting, just as the moon always rejuvenates after its decline.

This is why David’s kingdom is compared to the moon, and it is also why we recite in the Kiddush Levana ceremony, “David, King of Israel, lives and endures.” The Jewish people grow from every setback as well, rectifying all their sins and blemishes, until they will eventually be privileged to perfect the world under the sovereignty of God. At that time, the moon, which symbolizes our situation in the world, will also return to its perfected state, when its light will be as bright as the sun’s. Thus, we beseech God in Birkat Ha-levana, “It [the moon] should renew itself as a crown of glory for those He carried from the womb, for they [Israel] are destined to be renewed like it, and to praise their Creator for the sake of His glorious majesty.”

Some have a custom to add the following request:

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, to make good the deficiency of the moon, so that it is no longer in its diminished state. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation as it was before it was diminished, as it says, “The two great luminaries” (Bereishit 1:16). And may there be fulfilled for us the verse: “They shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king” (Hoshe’a 3:5). Amen.[20]

[20] Numerous midrashim indicate that the non-Jews at the time followed the solar calendar. The reason for this is tied to man’s desire to utilize the sun, which stems from a desire for absolute perfection. However, the truth is that this is beyond man’s reach. And since the non-Jews fail to attain absolute perfection, they forfeit what they could have achieved by revealing God’s name in the world. By contrast, the Jews know how to operate within this world while clinging to God, which manifests itself through constant self-perfection. Calculating the months according to the lunar cycle alludes to our efforts in this world, while calculating the years according to the solar calendar alludes to our constant aspiration for perfection. The Islamic calendar’s use of lunar months is based on the Hebrew calendar, but theirs is a purely lunar calendar that does not account for the solar year. This signifies a lack of aspiration for continuous self-perfection and an entrenchment in this world. It also explains why Islam perceives reward, even in the hereafter, in predominantly physical terms.

It is important to add that even when the moon is invisible to us, it is not actually gone; it is merely hidden from view. When this occurs, none of the light it absorbs from the sun is reflected toward the earth, thus making it indiscernible to us. The same is true of the nation of Israel: Even when it is in a period of descent, its inner essence remains unblemished; “Every part of you is fair, my darling, there is no blemish in you” (Shir Ha-shirim 4:7). 

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