Arguing with G-d is an old Jewish tradition. Abraham did it, Moses did it, most Jewish grandmothers do it frequently. But according to our sages, the first to argue with G-d was the moon. And G-d didn't mind.
He was looking for an interactive experience when He created the cosmos, and a lot of that comes from losing arguments with your creations - in fact, losing most of them. The rabbis of the Talmud recount that when G-d lost an argument with them once, He laughed and said, "They beat me! My children beat me!" So He actually gets a kick out of the whole thing.
Arguing with the moon - and losing - was part of the original plan. G-d set her up for it. The Babylonian Talmud (Chulin 60b) tells the story cryptically. Here, for the first time, is the actual dialogue:
It was early on that first Wednesday morning that the sun and the moon woke up to find themselves initialized into existence, high up in the sky, both illuminating Planet Earth with equal intensity. Right off, the moon complained.
"So we've got two bosses in the same office! Bad idea."
Now G-d is a reasonable employer, open to constructive criticism. He considered the comments of his newborn critic and replied, "Good point. Therefore, kindly make yourself smaller."
Creation being a voice-activated interface, the moon was instantly diminished in size. That's when the real argument began.
"What a crummy system!" the moon exclaimed. "You lay things out the way they are, and you get shrunk for it!"
Once again, G-d was impressed by the biting insight of His creation. It seemed that He really liked the moon and felt for her case.
"Please allow me to make up for this," He said.
"Like how?" she demanded.
"How's this," G-d replied. "The sun only gets to shine for her set 12 hours. But you may shine at night and sometimes for a little of the day."
"Well with the luminance rating you've given me, I might as well be some puny candle in the big blue sky!" the moon replied.
"Speaking of the sky," the dark sky began to glitter as G-d spoke, "I've filled the night sky with pretty stars to keep you company!"
"Well I like the jewelry," said the moon, "but I still don't like being small."
"What's so terrible about being small?" asked G-d. "The truly great people of history will be small! Jacob will be smaller than his brother, Esau. David will be smaller than his seven brothers. There will even be a great sage who they will call 'Samuel the Small'!"
"Great!" she countered. "And I'll be 'the small, insignificant moon'. No one will even notice me."
"That's not true!" G-d cried. "You will serve a very major function in their lives. You see, although most peoples will fix their calendars according to the position of the sun, I will tell the Jewish people to count their days according to the appearance of the moon."
"But they'll end up making adjustments based on the sun so that their holidays stay in the right season," she said. "Even when I get my own domain, it's tailored to suit that other light. Can't you just make me big again?"
"And what then?"
G-d pleaded. "I can't make everybody the same size. You said that yourself. There has to be protocol, or else it just doesn't work."
"So this was already planned!" the moon exclaimed. "Now you want me to be shrunken as if it were all my fault!"
"No. It's my fault." G-d spoke pensively. "I wanted a world. And a world is a place where there is higher and lower, greater and smaller, parent and child. A heirarchy. Where things begin in one place and move on to somewhere else."
"So for you, my pain doesn't even exist."
"Of course it exists! Otherwise, why should I have built in all this compensation?" G-d paused. "Here, let me show you what the future has in store."
The cosmos quickly arranged themselves to the year 2448 after creation. The moon rose over ancient Egypt, no more than a sliver in the sky.
"What do you see?" G-d asked her.
"Yes, this is the land of pyramids. All knowledge, all power, all wealth in a neat pyramid of higher to lower. No one dares question the absolute power of Pharaoh. No one - until my man in Egypt. And now I shall speak with him: Moses!" "Yes Sir."
"You have done a fine job. As your ancestor, Abraham, smashed the idols of his father's house, you have flattened the pyramid of Egyptian authoritarianism. You have championed the plight of the oppressed and brought freedom and liberation into my world."
"Thanks, oh Infinite One. What's next?"
"Now I want to introduce you to your mascot. She is the symbol of all that you and your people must accomplish. She is the moon and she is small, and she is humble and oppressed. You will begin now to redeem her, to uplift her status, by counting your calendar according to her cycles.
"And this shall be a constant reminder for you and your people of your mission in this world. For in this world you shall not be the most powerful, nor the most numerous. You shall be the smallest of the nations. At times you shall dwindle and almost disappear - as she disappears from the sky at the end of each month. But only to return again, as an imperishable light, once again to champion the cause of the downtrodden and enslaved."
A thousand scenes passed by. Scenes of valiant giving, heroic rescue, boundless compassion, of sharing and kindness. The oppressed were rescued from their plight. The downtrodden were returned their self-esteem. Those suffering pain and misfortune were comforted and healed.
A deep joy filled the hearts of those who helped.
"Does that always happen?" asked the moon.
"Always," affirmed G-d. "There are no one-way streets in my world. The poor give to the rich, students to their teachers, children to parents, the small to the great."
"But they are still small!" said the moon. "Not only am I small, but just when I become full and at least visible, then right away I have to start diminishing myself back to zero, night by night."
"Just like the great personalities of history I mentioned to you before," G-d said. "They, too, become great by becoming nothing. Look at Moses - what did he say? 'Find someone else - I'm not good enough.' Same with King David. At the height of his glory, he will sit in his palace late at night and sing songs to me about what a worthless worm he is.
"And then there's Harriet Goldberg...."
"Who's Harriet Goldberg?"
"She will be a waitress in a greasy-spoon cafeteria where she'll excel at keeping her good deeds quiet. Like you and all the other true greats, as soon as she begins to shine, she'll remind herself of her nothingness and try to disappear. Which will only increase the power of her deeds."
"I bet she'll lead a miserable life."
"She won't think so."
"I bet there's a lot of suffering down in that world of yours."
"Suffering, pain, darkness. If it were up to me, the entire world would be filled with happiness and joy and light!"
"Why is light any greater than darkness?" G-d asked.
"When there's light, you know the truth," the moon replied. "And you don't suffer the pain of meaninglessness and confusion."
"When there is light you have a ray of the truth," G-d replied. "In the dark you can touch the essence."
This was going to need some explaining; perhaps a science project.
"Let me illustrate what happens when you diminish to complete invisibility from earth," G-d said. We'll start in full moon mode. Okay, where are you now in relation to the sun?"
"Well, there's the sun, a few planets, then earth," said the moon.
"Then, a little further and there's little me. The sun shines onto me, and some of that light bounces down to earth."
"Exactly. Now, let's see where you are when your light disappears from the earth. There. How do you relate to the sun now?"
"Well, the earth isn't between us anymore."
"So are you further away or closer to the light?"
"And so it is with all those who travel through darkness in their lives," said G-d. "In those places they are closer to the truth than at any other time. And because of those dark moments they can shine toward others."
"Why couldn't You make it so that humanity could reach Your essence without the suffering?" the moon insisted.
"That," He said, "I will not say."
Then G-d looked down again to Moses. "Moses!" he called.
"I have another good deed for you. It has to do with the new moon. When it comes to the beginning of each month, I want you to bring a sin offering for Me."
"A sin offering for Who?" Moses asked.
"For Me. Because I have diminished the light of the moon. And because there is suffering and oppression in My world. And darkness."
"But G-d," Moses asked. "Why don't You just do away with the suffering?"
"That's your job, Moses."
"So why did You put it here in the first place? Who forced Your Almighty Hand?"
"You, too?" G-d paused.
Finally, G-d said, "Moses, you know I have revealed to you every secret of the cosmos. I have not held back a thing, but have given you My entire Torah, My most essential wisdom, to share and to teach to your people."
Moses stood still.
"But there is one thing that, as long as you live in this world, I cannot reveal to you, one thing for which I must only say, 'Silence! So it must be!'"
"But why, Eternal G-d?" Moses pleaded.
"Moses," G-d asked, "if you knew the answer, if you understood why there had to be suffering from an all-powerful, beneficent G-d, what would you do then?"
"I suppose I wouldn't feel so bad about it then."
"Precisely. And that is just what I don't want. I don't want you to tolerate darkness. You must fight it with every sinew of your flesh, with all the capacity of your soul. Until you redeem every spark of light from its captivity, until you can bring sweetness to the most bitter places, until you have not left a corner of my world untouched with acts of kindness and compassion - until then you must hate the darkness as a blood-sworn enemy.
"So until that time, when I will wipe the tears of sorrow from every face, when all darkness, even the darkness of the past, will become light as the light of the first day of Creation - when, as Isaiah will say, the light of the moon will be as great as the light of the sun....
"Until then, atone for Me."
Tzvi Freeman is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: 365 Meditations of the Rebbe. The above is from his "Lunar Files." His book can be purchased online at www.Judaism.com.