This month shall be for you (the beginning of all the months).
Parshat Bo (12:2)
This statement, this gift from Hashem, is the first of 613 mitzvot Hashem gave to the Bnei Yisrael. Before the Exodus; well before they stood at Sinai to receive the Torah; before the parting of the Red Sea; before their journey through the desert; even before they witnessed the tenth plague, Makkat Bechorot, before their homes were passed over and their first-born sons spared.
What is this mitzvah? Why is it here, at this point in time? In the hours before the first Korban Pesach, before our redemption from servitude?
It’s the mitzvah of Kiddush Levana (sanctification of the moon). It’s a promise of renewal, of faith, and an eternal reminder of this exalted moment before the Exodus. The feelings the Bnei Yisrael experienced on this eve of their metaphoric rebirth—from slavery to freedom, from the burden of Pharaoh’s oppressive hand, to the Divine embrace of Hashem. It’s a promise of recognition that while His presence may often be hidden in our world, this presence comes out to greet us anew each month with each cycle of the moon.
In the beautiful words of Kiddush Levana, Rabbi Yishmael said, “Ilmalei lo zachu Yisroel elah l’hakbil pnei avihem shebashamayim paam achat bachodesh, dayam. If Israel merited to greet the countenance of their Father in heaven only once a month, it would be enough for them. He likens the sanctification of the new moon to welcoming the Shechina, the Divine presence.
The Talmud in Sanhedrin (42A), in the name of Reb Yochanan, informs us of a gezeirah shavah—
a method of biblical exegesis wherein two verses with identical terminology are linked to each other. In this case, the link is found between the words of “hachodesh hazeh lachem” (This month shall be for you the beginning of all the months) as referenced above, and “zeh Keili v’anveihu” (this is my God and I will glorify Him) in Parshat Beshalach (15:2), referencing the splitting of the Red Sea. These two linked instances, the splitting of the sea with its greeting of the Heavenly presence, and the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, sanctifying the moon, are associated by an acknowledgement of the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
How can these two phenomena be linked? The splitting of the Red Sea was a physical change that was easily recognized as a miracle of God’s making. A new moon, in contrast, is seemingly no different than the morning sunrise, often repeated, mundane—expected even. Why, then, is this ostensibly regular occurrence considered to be special? So much so that it is compared to greeting the Shechina?
Perhaps it’s because we need to remember and recognize that even the most basic elements of our lives and the world around us are gifts, little daily miracles awarded to us by our Redeemer. No less in significance than the plagues of Egypt, the Exodus, the splitting of the Sea, the manna in the desert, Matan Torah, and the ultimate gift of Eretz Yisrael. The moon, though, with its uniquely visible cycle, offers us a wonderful opportunity, an occasion to make a blessing in appreciation of the entire masterpiece of God’s world—each month upon its renewal, its rebirth.
Some commentaries explain that Hashem’s placing this mitzvah here, first, even before the Bnei Yisrael are freed, serves as a message to future generations. An emphatic and continued reminder of the euphoric joy of the Geula would combat the times our people might forget the majesty of this time—the miracles and events that led to Yetziat Mitzrayim—which, in fact, did occur throughout our history.
Hashem gave us a cycle of renewal, a roadmap to hold onto remnants of that jubilation and joy of deliverance. Through Kiddush Hachodesh we experience the rebirth of the moon each month, recapture the moment the mitzvah was given, and rejoice in its consistency.
Each year on Seder night we say, “A person is obligated to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt.” Perhaps we are meant to feel a bit of that joy and promise each month as well, as we witness and thank Hashem for the new moon and all the blessings it brings.
Below please find some interesting Laws and customs that have appeared in our Halacha Yomis mailing.
Why do we wait until Motzei Shabbos to recite Kiddush Levana?
Shulchan Aruch (426:2) writes that ideally, Kiddush Levana should be said on Motzei Shabbos, since this is a time when we are in good spirits and we are dressed in our Shabbos best. If Motzei Shabbos is cloudy and Kiddush Levana is recited during the week, elegant clothing should be worn (Rama, ibid.). The Rama (ibid.) writes that it is customary to rejoice and dance after Kiddush Levana, much as one would at a wedding. This is because the rebirth of the moon is reflective of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, which will be renewed with the coming of the Mashiach. Not all poskim agree that one should wait until Motzei Shabbos to say Kiddush Levana. The Bach writes that Kiddush Levana should be said as soon as possible, and this was also the custom of the Vilna Gaon (Maaseh Rav 159). Mishnah Berurah (426:20) writes, while it is preferable to follow the Shulchan Aruch and wait until Motzei Shabbos, it is acceptable to follow the Bach and Vilna Gaon as well. If the winter months are cloudy, everyone agrees it is best not to wait until Motzei Shabbos, lest the opportunity to recite the prayer be lost.
After completing the bracha of Kiddush Levana, we recite various random phrases. Why were these particular phrases selected? Also, why is one of the phrases “Tipol Aleihem” repeated in a jumbled order? Finally, why is Shalom Aleichem recited at this juncture?
Rabbi Menachem Genack related that he once stood with his rebbi, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”tl during Kiddush Levana. When the recitation was completed, Rabbi Soloveitchik offered a novel and fascinating theory to explain the selection of these phrases.
Rabbi Soloveitchik noted that our text of the bracha of Kiddush Levana concludes “mi’chadash chadashim,“ He renews the moon. However there is a variant text in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9:2) and Meseches Sofrim (20:12), which concludes “mi’kadesh chodashim,“ He sanctifies the months. Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that the bracha was originally recited when Beis Din sanctified the new moon. During the reign of the Roman Empire in the land of Israel, kiddush ha’chodesh was forbidden by the Roman government. Nonetheless, the Beis Din would convene secretly, and two witnesses would knock on the door of the Beis Din in their secluded hiding place to provide testimony that the new moon was sighted. The witnesses began by reciting the verse “Keshaim she’ani roked…,“ which expresses the hope that G-d will protect us from our enemies.
After that, there was an exchange between the witnesses and the Beis Din that served as a secret password to gain entry. The witnesses said “Tipol Aleihem,” which is extracted from Shemos 15:16, and is a prayer that G-d’s fear fall on their enemies. The Beis Din responded by inverting some of the words, “ko’even yidmu,” as part of the secret code. The witnesses would then proclaim, “Dovid Melech Yisroel chai v’kayam,” which expressed the hope that the Davidic monarchy would replace Roman rule. At that point the witnesses were permitted to gain entry, and they greeted the Beis Din with the traditional “Shalom Aleichem,” and those present answered “Aleichem Shalom.”
Why is it customary to greet one’s neighbors with “Shalom Aleichem” after reciting the bracha of Kiddush Levana?
The custom of reciting “Shalom Aleichem” after Kiddush Levana is mentioned in Meseches Sofrim (which was compiled in the time of the Geonim, who lived in the 7th to 11th century). It states that following Kiddush Levana, one should greet friends with Shalom three times. In a previous Halacha Yomis, we shared the explanation of Hagoan, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”tl. Here are other classical reasons for this custom:
- The Maharil writes that we greet each other with “Shalom Aleichem” as an expression of joy that we merited to greet the Shechina (Hashem’s presence).
- The Magen Avrohom writes that since we recite the verse tipol aleihem aimasa vafachad, let fear and terror fall on our enemies, we immediately greet our neighbors with “Shalom Aleichem”, to demonstrate that we wish peace for our fellow Jews.
- The Siddur of the Arizal writes that at the time of creation, the moon was diminished because it quarreled with the sun. While blessing Hashem when seeing the new moon, we wish to show that there is no enmity between Jews.
Common practice is to greet three friends with “Shalom Aleichem”, and the friends reply, “Aleichem Shalom”. The Rama (426:2) writes that responding is equivalent to greeting, and one who responded “Aleichim Shalom” three times is not required to greet additional members of the community.