The Light of the Moon

This Shabbat being the Shabbat before Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year, in which the festival of Passover falls, is called Shabbat Hahodesh, or the Sabbath of the Month. In addition to the regular Torah portion, we read the very first commandment given to the Israelites, the command to establish a calendar based on the moon. So why was this the first commandment given to the Jewish people?

Many mishnayot (the major texts of the Oral Law) describe in exquisite detail how witnesses would rush to Jerusalem to testify before the Sanhedrin that they had seen the new moon so that the judges could declare the new month. These witnesses were even allowed to desecrate the Sabbath by traveling in order to testify.

To this day, on the Saturday night following the new moon, Jews gather in front of the synagogue reciting praise to God while gazing up at the moon, in a ceremony called Kiddush Levana, or the Sanctification of the Moon. Why this preoccupation with the moon? The commandment to mark the months was given when the Israelites were undergoing their transformation from a group of slaves into a nation of free people.


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