My second grader has been studying the phases of the moon at school, so we’ve been watching the moon more intently for a couple of weeks. He was happy to tell me that Friday morning’s sliver was a “waning crescent.” The waning crescent means the new moon is only a couple of days away, and then the moon will get brighter again.
After he shared his knowledge with me, I asked if he knew what the new moon brought with it. He didn’t, and when I told him the new moon brought the new Jewish month with it, he was SO excited at this news!!
And, I must admit, I find it rather exciting too… so I decided to look up and share the official blessing for the new month… and what I found was more intriguing than even I expected!!!
You see, the “celebration of the new month” to which I’m accustomed is a pronouncement in synagogue on the last erev Shabbat of the month. The pronouncement tells us the day in the next week on which the new month will begin and, as translated in the Mishkan T’filah siddur, includes this prayer:
Our Gd and Gd of our ancestors, may the new month bring us goodness and blessing. May we have long life, peace, and prosperity, a life exalted by love of Torah and reverence for the divine; a life in which the longings of our hearts are fulfilled for good.
Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur (Shabbat) at 261 (CCAR 2007).
However, as I looked up the specific language of that prayer to provide in this post, I found out that custom of announcing when the new month would begin did not originate until the 9th century… and Halakah (Jewish law) actually prescribes a different and much more meaningful custom!!
According to the Talmud, we are to stand outside some night between the third and fourteenth day of the month, looking at the waxing moon that is growing in brightness and recite a prayer praising Gd for Creation. Ideally we will observe this custom in the company of friends, because then we can share our joy at the moon’s renewal, which gives us hope for our own renewal and growing brightness with the Light of Gd. The Talmud explains:
Said Rabbi Aha bar Hanina in the name of Rabbi Asi in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Reciting the blessing over the moon at the proper time is like greeting the Shekhinah [indwelling presence of Gd] personally… Said Abaye: Therefore we should say the blessing standing up (as though greeting Gd). Meremar and Mar Zutra went so far as to climb up on one another’s shoulders while saying the blessing.
Sanhedrin 42b (as quoted on My Jewish Learning ).
And The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Ashkenaz) explains that greeting the moon is like greeting the Shekhinah because
the only way we can recognize the existence of Gd is through [Gd’s] works. … In nature it is seen through the orderly functioning of the enormously complex heavenly bodies. … This phenomenon is most apparent in the cycles of the moon, because its changes are more visible than those of any other body. Thus, when we greet the moon, we greet its Maker and Guide.
Artscroll Siddur at 612 (citing Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachos 4).
I took the liberty of “updating the prayer”** that is to be said outside with the moon between the 3rd and 14th of the month, and I provide it here for others to use and share:
Praised are You, Hashem, our Gd, Ruler of the Universe, whose word created the universe and whose breath created the celestial bodies. Gd gave them appointed times and roles, and they never miss their cues, doing their Creator’s bidding with gladness and joy. Gd, the true and faithful Creator, commanded that the moon would renew itself as a beautiful crown in the sky. May we renew ourselves and proclaim the beauty of Gd’s glorious universe. Praised are you, Hashem, who renews the months.
Tonight begins the new Jewish month … so next weekend, grab a friend and head outside to appreciate the moon, Creation, Gd, and our ability to renew our own lives!!!
Shavua Tov (a good week!)
and Gut Chodesh (a good month!)
may we all be blessed, jen
**”updating the prayer” means that I removed language referring to Gd as male and language suggesting the moon was a crown for Israel (rather than humanity).