Letters June 2024

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

The New Month’s Significance

Avi: What is the relationship between Psalm 104 “Borchi Nafshi,” and the new month? As this Psalm is the song of the day on Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon.

Rabbi: Why does king David both commence and conclude this Psalm with the words “Borchi Nafshi; My soul blesses God?”

On the Sabbath/New Moon, our Musaf prayer changes to “You formed Your world long ago.” Why is this inappropriate on a regular Sabbath?

This Psalm depicts not physical creation which is what Sabbath commemorates. But Borchi Nafshi depicts how creation operates, natural laws, from the winds, mountains, thunder, the sea’s limit, the sun’s circuit, to the flow of rivers through valleys, animal habitats, vegetation for cattle, and bread and wine for man’s happiness. Like the renewal of the moon, so are all these forces of nature continual laws. 

Rosh Chodesh is the renewal of the moon’s cycle. And what repeats, is a law. What does not repeat is accident.

Genesis 1:1 too contains the account of creation, followed by Genesis 2:5 – the account of how nature and man operate: “When no shrub of the field was yet on Earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because God had not sent rain upon the earth and there were no human beings to till the soil, but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth.” Then Genesis discusses rivers. King Solomon too refers to rivers in Koheles 1, alluding to man’s psyche, his flowing energies (Rabbi Israel Chait). These rivers depict human operation, not human creation.

The Sabbath/New Moon prayer changes to “You formed Your world long ago.” The reason is because the two categories of creation coincide on this date. Sabbath celebrates the creation of all entities, and the new moon celebrates the creation of laws. On this day, when these two systems coincide, we now have a full picture of both parts of creation, demanding the change of the prayer text. Now that the new moon repeats its cycle, we have a complete picture of both, created entities and created laws.

King David opens and closes this Psalm with “My soul blesses God” because here he sees tremendous wisdom in “how” natural laws work, and work together as a whole. Witnessing God’s systems, and how they interact is much more impressive than the design of a single object. This touched King David’s soul, for which he blessed God both before and after referencing God’s astonishing natural laws. Blessing God before and after this Psalm is a manner of bracketing the unique theme. Similarly, we bless God both at the beginning, and the conclusion of the Sabbath and holidays with kiddush and havdallah respectively. This earmarks the duration of Sabbath and holidays.

Why does the psalm conclude with a wish that sin ends, and evildoers are no longer evil? Here, King David identifies the objective of God's brilliant creation: that man should recognize God.

Aaron’s Consolation

Mordy L: Rashi writes:

When Aaron saw the dedication offerings of the princes, he felt distressed because neither he nor his tribe was with them in the dedication. Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “By your life! Your part is of greater importance than theirs, for you will kindle and set in order the lamps” (Num. 8:2).

Aaron was given consolation with the daily Menorah lighting. How does this bring consolation to Aaron and the Levites? 

Rabbi: We can further ask that this seems petty. Why should Aaron be bothered by others worshiping God? Wouldn't Aaron of all people, the man who ran to make peace amongst all Jews, be delighted by Jews worshiping God? 

We must define the difference between Temple inauguration, and Temple service of lighting the Menorah. 

Aaron’s dismay was that Temple’s inauguration was a momentous occasion; he wished he and his tribe played a role, as such events are remembered and instill lessons in future generations. Also, not taking part in the inauguration might tarnish the Levites’ reputation; every tribe but theirs participated. 

However, God responded: one-time events are not as impacting as daily events, like candle lighting. By definition, that which God commands daily repetition must be more significant than a single inauguration. Thus, our weekly Sabbath is of greater importance than yearly holidays. 

Additionally, candle lighting illuminates us towards fundamental ideas: “Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the Parochess curtain which is over [the Ark of] the covenant, [to burn] from evening to morning before God” (Exod. 27:21). The Menorah illuminates the dividing curtain over the Holy of Holies, the room of the Ark containing the Torah. In other words, the 7-branched Menorah depicting 7 days of creation, sheds light on the Ark, Torah. For through recognition of creation, one recognizes the Creator, and Torah commencing with creation is validated.

Emotions and Aging

Alex Kahgan: You wrote: “At life’s start, man is still following his emotions until he studies Torah, accepts its ideals and follows them. This transition from emotions to intellect can be a struggle.”  Are you suggesting man eliminates his emotions as he gets older? He is not to be motivated by his emotions? Rambam writes that our behavior is motivated by emotions. Do you mean "following emotions not dictated by the Torah”?

Rabbi: We can’t eliminate our emotions, nor does God deem them superfluous in older age. As we grow in Torah, our emotions shift from seeking physical pleasures, to seeking pleasures of wisdom. When younger, it's difficult to withdraw our energies from physical satisfaction and engage in thought instead. But with continued exposure to wise teachers and their wisdom, and our toil in Torah, the emotions start removing their grip on physical pleasures, and we start seeking wisdom instead. Our emotions become attached to wisdom.