Parshat Vayikra: The meaning of the moon

Specifically this year there is a group of theological mystics who see a fascinating linkage between astronomical signs and prophetic visions.

March 19, 2015 18:40
4 minute read.
Painting by Yoram Raanan

Painting by Yoram Raanan. (photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)

‘This renewal of the moon shall be for you the [Festival of the] beginning of every month; it [Nisan] shall be for you the first of the months of the year’ (Exodus 12:2, following the translation of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)

This Sabbath – the day in which we “bless” or inaugurate the first month of the calendar year of our festivals, the month of Nisan – is one of four special Sabbaths which prepare us for the momentous holiday of Passover, our birth as a free nation. Hence we read an additional biblical passage which declares the establishment of the new month (at the time of the renewal of the moon) as the first commandment given to the Israelites, with the month of Nisan as the first of the months.

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Since poetic fantasy pictures the “habitation” of our spiritual and incorporeal God as being in the heaven above (in reality, the entire Universe cannot contain our God, who is both within and beyond) the sky would seem a fitting canvas upon which God might well provide us humans with important symbolic messages and even perhaps signs of future events to come.

Therefore, the rainbow expresses God’s covenant with humanity that He will not destroy the world, and the rebirth of the moon each month – the light emerging from a totally darkened and blackened firmament – symbolizes the continuous emergence of Israel from darkness to light, from exile to redemption (the sacred Zohar says that the nation of Israel is symbolized by the moon, and see too Genesis 1:14, “the luminaries in the firmament of the heavens shall distinguish between day and night and shall serve as signs and Divine appointments [Moadim].”

Specifically this year there is a group of theological mystics, mostly within Christian Evangelical circles but with a number of Jewish mystics as well, who see a fascinating linkage between astronomical signs and prophetic visions.

Now there are times when the moon appears to be bloodred, when the moon comes closest to the earth, and of course we are all aware of times when the sun is eclipsed. The Talmud teaches that “when the sun is in a total eclipse, it is a bad omen for the nations… when the moon is in a total eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel” – but presumably, when the moon is bloodred (almost like the sun), it is a good omen for Israel, and redemption is near (see the Kiddush Levana prayers).

Our prophet Joel is the probable source for the talmudic reference, as well as for a reference in our Passover Haggada: “I will set wonders in the heavens and on earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke; the sun will turn to darkness and the moon to bloodred, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it will be that whoever calls out in the name of the Lord [Y-HVH] will be saved. On Mount Zion and Jerusalem there will be refuge…” (Joel 3:3-5).

Remarkably enough, we are currently in an astronomical phenomenon in which there are four bloodmoons on the Festivals of Passover and Succot 2014 and 2015, in the midst of which appears an eclipsed sun on Rosh Hodesh Nisan sandwiched in-between:
Blood-moon No. 1 April 15, 2014 …….……..…… Passover
Blood-moon No. 2 October 8, 2014 …………..…… Succot
Eclipsed sun March 20, 2015 …...……Rosh Hodesh Nisan
Blood-moon No. 3 April 4, 2015 ……………………Passover
Blood-moon No. 4 September 28, 2015 ……………Succot

This astronomical situation is very rare; the only other recorded times of a similar sequence is in 1492 (the Spanish Inquisition followed by the Jewish return to Safed), 1948 and 1967 ...

A documentary film is about to appear on this subject and my special friend Pastor John Hagee has just published a book on it; he connects Joel’s prophecy to Ezekiel 38, maintaining “that the heavens are God’s billboard and He sends signals to planet Earth; what we must do is decipher those signals,” and he pictures the following scenario: • Israel will cripple Iran’s nuclear capabilities, with or without American support; • Israel’s enemies will join Russia to invade Israel; • The situation will look hopeless; • God will save Israel and all of our supporters; • Messiah will come.

I bring this to your attention, as a kind of pre-Passover gift, because I believe it to be a fascinating testimony to the interesting times in which we are living and the strong ties many of the Christian leaders now feel towards the State of Israel and the People of Israel.

What do I truly believe? I take my cues from a marvelous midrashic commentary on the special covenant between God and Abraham: “[God] took Abraham outside and He said: ‘Look up at the heavens’ – get out of astrological predictions; you and your seed are governed only by My words and your fealty in observing them” (Genesis 15:5, Rashi and Midrash Bereishit Raba ad loc).

In the words of Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov: “When will the Messiah come? When the wellsprings of Torah morality and peace will spread throughout the world.”

But nevertheless, maybe, perhaps… 

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone institutions and the chief rabbi of Efrat. His acclaimed series of parsha commentary, Torah Lights, is available from Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

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