Parashat Pinchas: Lunar lessons

Parashat Pinchas: Lunar lessons

This past week, we witnessed the so-called “super moon.” A super moon occurs when the new or full moon coincides with the “lunar perigee” (the moon at its closest point to the earth in its orbit.) Apparently, the full moon of this past weekend was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons of 2013. I say “apparently” because many of us spent last Saturday and Sunday nights looking for a spectacular nighttime show and were somewhat disappointed.

Frankly, calling the moon “super” is nothing more than a nice gesture to a celestial object that almost always takes second billing to the sun. Yes, the moon affects the tides and provides a lovely backdrop for romantic summer nights, but compared to the sun, the moon is virtually inconsequential. It would take 76 million moons to fill the space of the sun. The sun gives us heat and light and life. The moon is merely a lifeless rock that reflects the sun’s light. Super indeed!

Our tradition is well aware of the moon’s secondary role in the celestial pecking order. In Parashat Pinchas, our Sages point to a verse that suggests that God even feels bad for making the moon smaller than the sun. With regard to the offerings brought on the new moon, we read, “And there shall be one goat as a purification/sin offering to the Lord…” (Numbers 28:15)

Since the expression “as a purification/sin offering to the Lord”, chattat L’Adoshem, is unique in the Torah and left unexplained, the Sages read the expression as “purification/sin offering for the Lord”. (Babylonian Talmud Hullin 60b). God’s purification/sin offering is an admission that He has created a world in which unfairness exists. God’s purification/sin offering is a type of divine compensation.

The world is unfair. God knows it. And yet, God’s response to the moon, in the Talmudic legend cited above, when she complains for having been reduced in size is not “Life is unfair, deal with it!” (The sun and moon were originally the same size and then the moon complained to God saying, “two kings could not share the same crown.”) God asks that each new moon a sin offering be made on His behalf. Our God feels bad, but that is not all. Our God also offers additional compensation. In addition to the sin offering, God tells the moon “…that the people of Israel shall use you to count the days and years.”

And so we have done for generations. We have used the waxing and waning of that relatively tiny and lifeless rock in the night sky to measure all the days of our lives. True, the moon is not equal to the sun but it has its place in God’s universe. Our Sages of the Talmud remind us that God is not indifferent to cries of injustice even from one of His inanimate creations.

If God cares about the cries of the moon then al achat kama v’ hama, how much the more, does God care about the cries of injustice from the most beloved of His creation, humankind. God knows that He has created a world in which there are those born less wealthy, less healthy, less fortunate than others. God is not indifferent to our pleas.

By means of the moon, our Sages teach that God offers compensation to us as well. For the physically challenged, God offers the strength of heart and spirit. For the spiritually challenged, God offers His presence in all of creation. For the tiniest of people and the most beleaguered, us Jews, God offers the Torah and the land of Israel and their gift of hope.

Yes, life is not fair. God knows it and hears our cries. And when the Messiah comes, God will offer one final compensation. According to the legend, in the end of days, God will restore the moon to its full size and all will be right with the world. What is true for the moon will be true for us as well. Keyn y’hi ratzon, may it be God’s will and may the Messiah come speedily in our day.

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