The Tapestry of Jewish Time
A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events
By Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin
Illustrated by Ilene Winn-Lederer
Behrman House Publishers, 2000
Rosh Hodesh: The New Moon
Since the earliest of earthly times, the sun has eclipsed the moon as the premier heavenly body, both in its radiance and in the human imagination. The sun was the symbol of strength and power. The pharaohs were children of the sun, not the moon. But the Israelites were partial to the moon. No matter how many times the moon was vanquished by the demons of the night, it always reemerged in the heavens and in our stories as a symbol of hope and renewal. Every month the moon would wane until it completely disappeared. Then, just after the darkest moment, the moon would give birth to itself, begin to re-form itself, and grow into a luminous, soothing orb.
The Jews saw in the moon a reflection of themselves. No matter how many nations were greater than they, no matter how often they were oppressed, like the moon, the Jews would always come back, shining bright, not in fire or vengeance, but in renewal, confidence, and joy.
The Jews have a story, a midrash, that says that at the end of time the moon and the sun will no longer be rivals. Rather, the one will become like the other in size, and they will reign in the sky together, in peace, one light that warms and one light that cools, one light that excites and one light that soothes. And so it shall be with the Jews. At the end of time, the Jews will share the world with all who may now appear stronger. All will offer their complementary strengths. And no one shall be oppressed.
The Texture of Time
Each month of the Jewish calendar has its own personality. Some months are joyous, like Adar, for the raucous redemption of Purim occurs in it. Some are subdued, like Heshvan, for it has no holiday at all except for the semiholiday of Rosh Hodesh. Some are tragic, like Av, for we remember the destruction of the Temple and the loss of thousands of Jewish lives. But regardless of the historic texture of the month, Rosh Hodesh the first day of the month is always joyous. It reminds us that our lives are always full of new possibilities, that we should not think of ourselves as prisoners of the past or as prisoners of the circumstances around us. For just as the moon is relentless in its pursuit of renewal, so we can be.
Both the light side and the dark side of the moon serve as our teachers. The light of the New Moon slicing through the darkness teaches us that small successes can rip holes in the dark cloth that sometimes threatens to bind us. Rosh Hodesh symbolizes the idea that the darkness of life will undoubtedly reassert itself now and then but it need not overwhelm us. The New Moon teaches us that there are ways to take advantage of the darkness whether welcome or not when it enters our lives. The darkness, after all, allows us to see the stars, by whose light we can set our bearings, and it allows us to trace the pale outlines of our dreams. It reminds us that those sights become clear only when we achieve a certain patience, openness, familiarity, and trust in gazing into the darkness.
It is no wonder we choose the moon to comfort us in our times of sorrow, for the sun never sees the darkness and cannot know the fear of being swallowed up by it. But the moon lives in the darkness. It is a worthy and wise companion.