Parshat Bo

Torah Reading for Week of January 25-January 31, 2009

“BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON….”

by Clara F. Zilberstein, Ph.D
AJRCA Professor of Women’s Biblical Studies

Until now, Moshe and Aharon have been messengers of G-d to Pharaoh. Their new role is to become G-d’s representatives to His people and begin the onerous task of educating and developing a slave nation into a spiritual model society. On the threshold of the nation’s birth, G-d proclaims (v.2)

“This renewal shall be for you the beginning of renewals; it shall be to you the first of the months of the year”.

Notice the creative translation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch compared with the standard English text. The message from G-d through the symbol of the freshly visible, sliver of moonlight, according to Rabbi Hirsch, was:

“As you observe the rebirth of the moon each month, it shall convey to you a fresh spiritual rejuvenation. You shall be inspired to regularly bring yourself back into relationship with Me, to the light of My Spirit and the illumination of My Teaching. Do not despair! Although in the past weeks our relationship may have waned like the moon in its last quarters, this fresh silver crescent of light marks a new spiritual cycle. Look at this light and consecrate the beginning of the month!”

Psychologically and spiritually, the renewal of the moon’s reflected light represents the profound symbol of human freedom and creative growth. It metaphorically presents our G-d-like free-will and our ability to create and re-create ourselves. It regularly renews our optimism and dispels our subjective sense of hopelessness. Allow me to quote a beautiful passage from Halakhic Man, by our most notable Jewish existentialist, the late Rav J.B. Soloveitchik:

“When a Jew goes outside and beholds the pale moon casting its delicate strands of light into the empty reaches of the world, [s/he] recites a blessing. The natural, orderly, cosmic phenomenon precipitates in one’s religious consciousness both melancholy thoughts and bright hopes. The Jew contemplates the spectacle of the lawful cycle of the waxing and waning of the moon and sees in it a symbol of defectiveness and renewal…. Herein is embodied the entire task of creation and the obligation to participate in the renewal of the cosmos. The most fundamental principle of all is that humankind must create itself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.”

May each of us see the light of the new moon as a dramatic visual reminder of our gifted opportunity, indeed our obligation, for growth and development, transformation and renewal, in every aspect of our lives!

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