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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Rosh Hodesh – Does HaShem Sin!?! Really! #Torah

Posted by rabbiart on November 14, 2009

The first commandment given to the community of Israel is to observe Rosh Hodesh. Unlike the festival holidays, no specific reason is given for this observance. Rashi opens his commentary on the Torah by asking why the Torah does not begin with this verse, since the Torah appears to be given for the purpose of articulating the mitzvot. (Rashi is actually setting up a straw man which he then proceeds to demolish, but that’s a different conversation.)Why is observing Rosh Hodesh the first communal commandment? Could it be possible that HaShem sinned in connection with Rosh Hodesh? Is it heretical to even ask such a question? Do we not read elsewhere that “the Rock is perfect in all his works, and all his pathways truth”?Answers to follow, but first this non commercial message. If you haven’t heard of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies go check it out and watch this video. I’ll wait.Inspired? I hope so. Please think about supporting this wonderful institution, and now, back to the drash. Traditionally – Rosh Hodesh is understood to be a day of human renewal, just as it marks the observance that the moon has started to renew itself after its disappearance at the end of the prior month. In fact, the Jewish month begins precisely at the moment when the moon begins its new cycle; while it is yet not visible to the human eye.


The Torah mandates that a sin offering be brought on Rosh Hodesh. BaMidbar 28:11-15 describes the offerings for Rosh Hodesh, concluding in verse 15 by specifying that “one male goat shall be brought for a sin-offering l’adoshem along with the continual burn-offering and the drink offering.

וּשְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת, לַיהוָה, עַל-עֹלַת הַתָּמִיד יֵעָשֶׂה, וְנִסְכּוֹ.

The word l’adoshem does not appear in connection with other sin-offerings on other festive holidays, giving license to midrash makers and kabbalists to read that this sacrifice is not made to HaShem, but by HaShem. A radical notion to be sure.

This startling interpretation has its basis in Talmud. On Hullin 60b we find a discussion of the sun and moon which begins with an exposition of Breshit 1:16. According to R. Shimon ben Pazzi the moon and sun were created at the same size, whereupon the moon pointed out to the Creator that “two kings cannot wear one crown.” The KBH responded by commanding the moon to make itself smaller. The moon’s feelings were hurt, and the moon was inconsolable, so the KBH finally said “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.” Resh Lakish sums up the discussion by saying “Why is it that the male goat offered on Rosh Hodesh has the additional phrase l’adoshem? Because the Kadosh Baruch Hu said – Let this male goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller!”


R. Avi Chermon points out that the Gemarah passage should not be taken literally.

He in turn learns this from Rav Kook. HaShem created a world in which it is possible to sin. Often this is understood to be a natural consequence of free will, but in this case, it has a different purpose. Quoting from another great rabbinic teacher – the Ramchal – “Hashem’s wisdom decreed that in order for the good to be complete, HaShem wanted the one who benefits to be the master of his good. One must acquire the good on his own, not through an external means.”The world is full of both destruction and creation (hmmm… sounds like capitalism a bit). Both can be part of the kedusha that is inherent in HaShem’s design of the world. When Moshe destroys the first set of tablets, he makes it possible for Israel to “earn” the commandments.

So when the Gemara says that HaShem asks for an atonement for making the moon smaller, HaShem is really saying that HaShem has deliberately created a world in which sin is possible, because atonement for sin repairs and completes the world – tikkun olam. In this reading, HaShem has created a world in which the destructive impulse can be harnessed for creation and construction.

Our role is both to sin – because we are human and fallible – and then to atone. This is the way HaShem has designed for us to partner in the works of creation.


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