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Kiddush Levanah: Lunar Renewal as Metaphor

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Each month, during one of the intervening nights between New and Full Moon, there is an impressive brief ceremony called Kiddush Levanah ('Sanctification of the Moon'). It derives from a Talmudic passage: " The Academy of Rabbi Ishmael taught: Had Israel not been privileged to greet the countenance of their Father in Heaven except for once a month - it would have sufficed them. Abaye said: Therefore one must recite it while standing (Sanhedrin, 42a)"
From time immemorial, humanity has looked to the sky and marveled at its expanse and grandeur. Many ancients even ascribed independent powers to celestial bodies and considered them worthy of worship. It took an Abraham to perceive that their regularity of motion indicated they're actually being under the control of a Higher Hidden Hand. Viewed with the unaided eye from Earth, all those objects appear unchanging, except for the Moon. Each month it goes through a cycle of changing presentation, from thin crescent to fullness to brief disappearance. As such, it visibly demonstrates God's complete mastery of Nature. By greeting the Moon each month, we, in effect, meet its Maker. As taught in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: "He who blesses the New Moon at the proper time is to be viewed like one who greets the Countenance of the Shechinah (God's presence) (Sanhedrin, 42a)".
The proper time for reciting Kiddush Levanah is during the Moon's crescent phase, from three nights, preferably seven, after New Moon till Full Moon. It should be recited standing, while out of doors, when there is an unclouded view of the Moon. Ideally it should be said with a minyan (quorum of ten), or, if possible, with at least three others. An individual, however, may recite it alone. Typically, it is recited at the end of the Sabbath, when congregants are in a festive mood. During the months of Av and Tishrei, it is normally not recited prior to the those month's fast days (ninth and tenth, respectively)
Originally, the totality of this rite took the form of a long blessing: Blessed art Thou, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, Who with His utterance created the heavens, and with the breath of His mouth all their legion. A decree and a schedule did He give them ... to the Moon He said that it should renew itself as crown of splendor for ... those who are destined to renew themselves like it ... Blessed art Thou, HaShem, Who renews the months. (Sanh. 42a)"
Over time, the ceremony has been considerably expanded, with the addition of all or part of three psalms, some Scriptural citations and pertinent Talmudic passages. The blessing's recital is prefaced by Ps. 148:1-6, which calls on the heavens and heavenly bodies to praise their Creator, Who established them unchangeably forever. Such practice serves to emphasize that this prayer is not in any way directed to the Moon. That there is to be but a fleeting glance at the Moon, prior to the blessing itself, further underscores that point.
But this ritual is not just about, important as that is, greeting God's presence. Nature serves further here as a metaphor for History. Israel is compared to the Moon, the nations, to the Sun. Like that daytime visible body, nations arise, attain greatness, but ultimately decline, never again to achieve their previous prominence. Israel, on the other hand, though repeatedly suffering decline, has, like the Moon, ever been renewed. It is highly significant that the first Divine injunction received by the Jews in Egypt concerned announcement of the New Moon ("This month shall be for you the beginning of the months", Ex.12:2), preparatory to the Redemption from Egypt. Thus, this rite includes pointed hopes for protection from oppression, as well as allusions to ultimate redemption.
Following the blessing, there is thus a series of seven verses, each repeated thrice.
1. Blessed is your: Molder, Maker, Owner, Creator. These four words' initial Hebrew letters spell 'Jacob'.
'Jacob', i.e. the Jewish People, are also to share in this blessing of God.
2. Just as I dance towards you, but cannot touch you (due to the force of gravity), so may none of my enemies be able to touch me for evil.

There is a custom of rising on one's toes while reciting this.
3. "Let fall upon them fear and terror; at the greatness of Your arm, let them be still as stone" (Ex. 15:16).
This verse is taken from the Song at the Split Sea, after miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian army's pursuit.
4. The above verse is recited in reverse order, representing hoped for reversal of an historical pattern of oppression.
5. "David, King of Israel, is alive and enduring (Rosh Hashanah 25a)". This phrase expresses hope for restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.
Forbidden to declare formally the New Moon due to Roman oppression, this coded message served then as substitute.
6. Often facing hostile populaces, Jewish unity was essential. Such comradeship is encapsulated in the greeting: "Shalom Aleichem" (Peace upon you).
One says this separately to three others, who respond in kind, but in the reverse: "Aleichem Shalom".
7. This last verse summarizes the above thoughts: "May there be a good sign and a good fortune for us and all Israel".
Messianic undertones continue with: "The voice of my beloved - Behold! It came suddenly , leaping over mountains, skipping over hills" (Cant. 2:8), alluding to the overcoming of all obstacles to the final redemption. God's Providence, moreover, never falters: "He was standing behind our wall, observing through the windows, peering through the lattices" (Cant. 2:9). Another citation from Song of Songs reprieves the motif of Israel-Divine encounter: "Who is this that rises from the desert clinging to her Beloved" (Cant. 8:9).
As the rite proceeds, three psalms are recited: 121-"I raise my eyes to the mountains; whence will come my help?", 150-concluding the Book of Psalms with effusive praises of God, 67-"May God favor us and bless us; may He illuminate His countenance with us".
Genesis speaks of the creation of "two great luminaries" (Gen. 1:16). A Talmudic legend (Chullin 60b) posits that the Sun and Moon originally were of equal size. The Moon contested for supremacy and was reduced in size in response. Its former size, however, is destined ultimately to be restored. Once again, this seems yet another instance of Nature serving as metaphor for History. Israel, which is compared to the Moon, will at the end of days, no longer suffer diminishment but, rather, will fully be restored to its former glory. That is the potent message of hope, invoked each month, by this deceptively simple, yet deeply metaphorically-laden ceremony.



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