We had had a wonderful day with several Breaking Israel News reporters on the last day of the Second B’ney Yosef Congress when Al McCarn and I had the privilege of driving Eliyahu Berkowitz back to his home in Katsrin, north of the Knerret. When we arrived, he invited us in for coffee and gave us a copy of a fictional work he has written titled The Hope Merchant. As we were preparing to leave for the two hour drive back to the hotel he said, “We need to conclude with a lesson. I have just the one from the Gemara.”
He hunted a rather large book case for a reference book, then found the directions to a particular volume and page that contained the nugget he wanted to share. After sitting with the large volume, Eliyahu began to read in Hebrew and translate on the fly into English.
I must have been really tired because I was having trouble focusing and following the story, then, BAM! Fireworks went off in my head!
“R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights,2 and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller’? He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night’. ‘But what is the value of this’? cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight’? He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years’. ‘But it is impossible’, said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’.3 ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee4 as we find, Jacob the Small,5 Samuel the Small,6 David the Small’,7 On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller’. This is what was meant by R. Simeon b. Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord?8 Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.
(2) Gen. I, 16. , (3) Ibid. 14. , (4) Righteous men shall be named ‘the Small’ after the moon which was reduced to become the small luminary. , (5) Cf. Amos VII, 2: How shall Jacob stand? for he is small. , (6) A renowned Tanna of the first century, called ‘the Small’ on account of his humility.
(7) Cf. I Sam. XVII, 14: And David was the youngest (smallest). , (8) Num. XXVIII, 15: And a he-goat for a sin-offering unto the Lord. These words, ‘unto the Lord’, are not found in connection with sacrifices on other festive seasons.
When he finished reading, Eliyahu asked, “What’d you get out of it?”
I must have been vibrating in place because I was so excited. New insight into something from the previous day’s Torah Portion!
My immediate thought was a comparison between the Greater and Lesser Lights with the Memra de Yeya and other studies I have done with the Angel/Messenger/(Malak) of the Lord. I suddenly had much depth added to thoughts I have previously shared on these topics.
I explained to Al and Eliyahu that the Angel of the Lord is one who is seen and then unseen, much like the moon, yet reflects and reveals the glory of God, as the moon does the sun. I recounted quickly several of the Angel of the Lord passages where the Angel makes astounding claims that only God can make. We’ve talked about those before and I have assembled a study sheet to help pull those pieces together…
Well, I have had time the last few days to further consider the illustration and have had additional insight!
Judaism, at least in some minor streams of thought, teaches that there is a Greater YHVH and Lesser YHVH, though they are echad. Rabbi Itzhak Shapira’s Return of the Kosher Pig (also available in Hebrew) really helped me understand some of this reasoning and the implications. Could the sun and moon be a hint?
Scripture tells us that ‘no man can see God and live.’ In similar manner, if I go outside and stare up at the sun, I will fry my retinas. BUT, I can go stare at a huge full golden moon and through the soft reflection, I can see the fullness of the sun painted on the moon. It is amazing that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would condescend toward His people by revealing Himself at points through a being that man can more easily relate to.
Another thought is that those who walk in the light of the sun do not really need the moon, however, those who walk in darkness (and we all do from time to time… 😉 ) need the light of the moon, in fullness, to help light our way until we walk in the sun! Isaiah 9:2 comes to mind…
Still another thought to consider is that there is only one light. It may have the appearance of being two lights, but all originates from the sun and is merely reflected making the sun and moon echad while bringing a ‘yachid’ message/light.
I have a few more thoughts on this picture from the Gemara, but want to share only one final one: Why an offering connected with the new moon? Hmmm….
So, after having a short but lively discussion with Eliyahu, Al and I hit the road back to Ariel, Israel. Our discussion continued with thoughts that bubbled up as well as wondering how much more depth and introspection can come from simple dialog with our Jewish brothers. Truly, these are amazing and exciting times!