New Moon Blessing
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim & Howard Salamon
This article will describe the concepts found within the Kiddush HaChodesh: the blessing upon the New Moon. Let us familiarize ourselves with the text:
“Blessed are you God, our God, King of the world, that with Your statement (You) created the heavens, and with the breath of Your mouth all the hosts thereof. A statute and time did You give them that they should not deviate their purposes. Happy and joyous (are the heavenly spheres) to do the will of their Creator. Worker of truth Whose works are truth, and unto the moon You declared that it should renew (itself); a crown of splendor to those (mankind) carried in the stomach, as they (mankind) will eventually renew themselves as the moon, and to exalt their Creator for the name of the glory His kingdom. Blessed are You God, Who renews the months.”
Now we will address each section.
“With Your statements (You) created the heavens, and with the breath of Your mouth, all the hosts thereof.”
This first praise deals with the heavens (space) and their contents (stars, planets, galaxies). God does not “speak” (He has no mouth) and of course prior to man’s creation, speech would be futile as there are no beings existing who can hear. Therefore the concept of “statements” and “breath” teach us something else in connection with God. Speech is a very simple activity, and when applied to God, it denotes that His mere will alone suffices to create the most awesome, physical bodies. Additionally, it is a general principle that one cannot offer partial praise in connection with God. The Talmud teaches that if one visits a place where one of the miracles wrought on his behalf took place, it is not sufficient if he praises God for that miracle alone, but he must also bless God for other miracles which were wrought elsewhere on his behalf. Daniel also followed this principle when God had revealed to him, both, Nevuchadnezzar’s dream content, and interpretation. Upon Daniel’s receipt of an answer to his request from God for this information, Daniel praised God for His greater measures, His ability to set up and dethrone kings, and for His ability to reveal knowledge to wise men in general. Only subsequent to this praise, did Daniel praise God for the specific information revealed to him in response to his request. He too offered the fullest praise to God, as limiting praise of God for his own benefit alone suggests God's praises are limited. Such a praise would dwarf the true, immense scope of God’s omniscience and omnipotence. To praise God as accurately as humanly possible, man must speak fully, of God’s might and knowledge in the most broad and all-inclusive sense. True, full praise of God therefore must describe universal phenomena, not subjective, individual events. Therefore, we first praise God in general terms: we exalt Him for the works of the heavens as as a whole independent of man, prior to exalting Him on account of the moon.
“A statute and time did You give them, that they should not deviate their puroses.”
Here we find the blessing referring not to the physical creation, but to the other half of creation: natural law. All matter was created in a physical state, but that such a state continues following set behaviors is not demanded merely by the body’s existence. Matter must also have governing laws so that, i.e., all trees grow and reproduce their own kind, all animals beget their own kind, etc. Laws of gravity, inertia, and all other constants did not come into being simply because matter was created. For we understand that atoms can combine in variations to form different elements.
Thus, in creation, God brought into being two distinct things: matter and laws. I believe the second chapter in Genesis alludes to the second category.
In application to the heavens, we would be remiss in our praise of God if we did not include praise for God’s wisdom manifested through not only the spheres, but their relentless paths in which they travel.
“Happy and joyous (are they) to do the will of their Creator.”
This statement on the surface implies awareness on the part of brute creation. However, as animals have no self awareness (they cannot reflect on "me") much less can inanimate objects possess will. How then are we to understand this phrase? I believe “happiness” here denotes the removal of conflict. Meaning, the spheres function with perfect exactitude, as there are no impediments between God’s will for the spheres to rotate and revolve, and between their physical performances. That is, God's works are perfect.
So there are 3 praises thus far; 1) Praise for the physical heavens, 2) Praise for their governing laws, 3) Praise for harmony, the perfect system of creation, where God willed something, and there is no conflict intervening between God’s will and the immediacy of the reality of His will. God’s will is all that is real and all that stands; "reality," bringing us to the next statement...
“Worker of truth, Whose works are truth”
This teaches that man’s awareness of the heavens must target an appreciation for the Creator. This is the culmination of the study of nature. Study for its own sake, for curiosity or scientific knowledge alone is not our objective. Our role is to be aware of God and respect Him, Who is behind creation. An atheist scientist—even if he were as great as Einstein—does not know anything, and forfeits his existence as a total waste. He has not recognized the most primary concept of anything, that being a thing's existence, as opposed to its features or behaviour. True knowledge of anything means we know how and why it exists: God created it.
Now, when we say, “truth,” we mean to say what is real, what is verified by reality. A "true" statement is that which reflects what exists. Without the true statement, reality is still "true." “Worker of truth”—God—means that which God creates, dictates what reality is. We attain this realization through the “works of truth,” through creation. Saying something is true—like when we say "I am your God; This is true" (end of the Shima)—means that we recognize its fundamental importance in our lives. We are saying, "This is what's real; this is what matters most."
“And unto the moon You declared that it should renew (itself), a crown of splendor to those carried in the stomach, as they will eventually renew themselves as the moon”
Here we find the distinction which God gave to the moon. The moon is the singular object in the heavens designed by God to pass through phases of waxing and waning. The purpose is that it should be a crown to man. A “crown” means that which marks the elevated distinction of something. Man’s elevated distinction is his free will, in specific, the free will that follows the path of a righteous life. Just as the moon grows full and then loses its grandeur, man too goes through cycles of perfection and sin. But God gives man a great gift through the moon, as God placed the moon’s phases as a sign to all mankind that man too can once again become great, just as the moon. The moon, then, is a parable to man’s constant failures and victories, to remind man that although he stumbles, he can—like the moon—become “full” once again. Teshuvah is well within reach. The lesson: creation is to direct man towards maintaining a relationship with God. Creation does not exist for itself, as it is mostly inanimate substance. The wisdom God embedded throughout the universe intends to enable man (and angels) to marvel at God’s wisdom.
This teaches us the level of import, which God wished to give to repentance. Nowhere else do we see God creating a unique behavior in creation solely for the purpose of reminding man that repentance is always within his grasp.
One more idea contained in these words is the meaning of “those carried in the stomach.” I wonder why man is referred to in this peculiar fashion, as opposed to saying “a crown of splendor to man.” I think that the idea is to remind man—in his pursuit of repentance—that he is a dependent being. He does not need to exist, represented by his once dependent state in his mother’s stomach. This humbling notion of dependence assists man in recognizing God, his Creator, and to return to Him through teshuva.
My friend Howard explained well that, “those carried in the stomach” also teaches that just as an infant prior to exiting the womb is free of sin, so are we able to be via repentance. This statement alludes to our inherent capacity to be as pure as we were before birth.
The renewal of the moon each month is to remind man that he was created with the ability to exercise his free will, which is what distances him from sin.
“And to exalt their Creator for the sake of the glory His kingdom”
This teaches that repentance is not the final goal, but the goal is to recognize God’s greatness. Maimonides teaches that repentance targets a reestablishing of a relationship with God. It is insufficient that man apologize to others for his wrongdoings, if his objective is not to reconnect with God. Teshuva means return, a return to God. This explains why teshuva requires a dialogue with God, vidduy, where man addresses God and confesses his sins.