“Is there a moon?”
This question, asked in Yiddish, would circulate around the Rebbe’s shalosh seudos tisch, the final meal of Shabbos, every month. Tze du a levuna? “The moon is out?” Someone would go outside to gaze at the sky while the congregation would await an answer. There would be a moment of hesitancy, then he would run in and cry, “Yes! There is a clear view of the moon!”
The whole atmosphere would change. There was a moon! The Rebbe would ask for his fur-lined winter coat, and everyone would rush to get through the shul door. Soon we would all be outside, and the Rebbe would look up into the heavens, see the moon, and break out in joyful prayer.
So it was by the Bobover Rebbe, zy”a, each month, and in his recital of those prayers one could sense the uniqueness of the Jewish faith. An outsider might ask, what are Jews doing howling at the moon? Obviously it has nothing to do with the moon as such, but everything to do with who we are as a people.
We are a tough old tribe, tougher than the ancient Indian tribes who couldn’t even survive one onslaught, tougher than the great nations who once ruled and are now no more. We’ve been victimized on all the continents of this world, and there is nothing we haven’t seen or survived. What is the secret of our survival?
It can be understood through the moon.
I don’t mean, chas v’shalom, that this illuminated orb somehow has a uniqueness deserving of worship in its own right. Rather, it is about how we as Jews relate to the world around us.
The Jewish people have always known that darkness in this world is only temporary, for Hashem is light, and that light will always exist. Even when we are driven into darkness by those who seek to destroy us, the light continues to shine from our mitzvos, our blessings, and, yes, within our hearts.
The Sfas Emes tells us that “by seeking to annul the observance of Rosh Chodesh, the Greeks sought to deprive the Jewish people of one of their greatest strengths the ability to master time by determining the order of the Jewish calendar. The Jewish people, through the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court, enjoyed the unique prerogative of proclaiming the new moon and, consequently, the timing of all the festivals. It was this unique ability to master time that the Greeks sought to deny us. In recompense, after suppressing the Greek threat, Klal Yisrael not only resumed its ability to determine the festivals’ times, but was also given the capacity to proclaim another Yom Tov, Chanuka.”
When we bless the new moon, we are transforming a natural occurrence into something much more powerful. We are intonating our ability to create kedusha, holiness, in this material world, to create light from darkness. This was something the Greeks could never accept. Their whole worldview was superficial form over content. If it came in a nice wrapper, it was good. The Jewish experience seeks to go beyond the surface, to delve deeper and find the kernel that is Hashem’s spark.
The Sfas Emes goes on to explain the idea that Klal Yisrael was royally compensated for their temporary inability to observe Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh by the addition of a new festival, Chanuka:
“In a certain respect, the proclamation of Chanuka as a festival is indicative of even greater spiritual strength than the monthly proclamation of Rosh Chodesh. Unlike the new moon, which occurs at the beginning of every month, at a time of renewal, Chanuka occurs during the final days of the month. Chanuka’s placement at the time of the waning of the moon, when darkness grips the earth, would ordinarily not be a propitious time to proclaim a new festival. But Hashem granted us the ability to brighten the darkness.”
When Yidden go out and bless the new moon, it is this dynamic that brings forth such blessing. We can create light. What a marvel! What a gift! It doesn’t matter where we are standing in the streets of New York, the fields of England, or the lofty mountains of our Holy Land, we can create light from darkness.
This kapitel is said when Jews sanctify the new moon. Its message is of a time when the entire world will extol the greatness of Hashem. We say it in the darkness of the street, knowing full well that it will bear witness to our certainty that one day the real light will flow for all. It may start as a flickering flame on a menora, but the truth is undeniable it will yet shine forth for us all.
Halleluyah! All that comes from the heavens, praise Hashem. Praise Him in the highest levels [of Heaven]. All His angels, praise Him. All His heavenly creations, praise Him. Sun and moon, praise Him. All shining stars, praise Him. These words melt the heart. In the midst of the darkness, our voices ring out, “Praise Him!” Listen to the Jewish heart. It praises even when everything seems dark and bitter. It seeks the stars, the moon, and the sun. Yes, we may be brokenhearted and facing troubles, yet our desire is that the whole of creation praises Hashem. Our soul yearns to hear such praise, even in its desolation.
This is one of the greatest Chanuka lessons. Those Yidden of old were unable to do very much, but their hearts sought to hear Hashem’s praise even when they themselves were placed in the worst of circumstances.
The kings of the lands and all nations, ministers, and all the judges on earth. Young lads and also maidens, old men along with youngsters. They should praise the name of Hashem, for His name alone is most powerful. His glory spreads over the earth and Heaven. There is but one truth. The kings, their ministers, the highborn, and those of low status all will know it. Hashem is One, and our role is to live this reality. We will do so in our homes, standing around our menoras, and we will sing these words under the stars. It makes no difference where or in what circumstances the light will always come forth, and we will see it.
And so the Rebbe would pray, and then we would say Aleinu, fingering our tzitzis, and after Kaddish the Rebbe would call for a leibedikke niggun, a lively tune.
My dear friends, to know the truth, to realize how grateful we should be just for being Yidden it’s enough to make you sing, and sing we do. This, to me, is the secret that the menora’s lights hold for us all. So sing, sweet Yidden, and be joyous that you have within you the power to know this truth.