As I was walking to shul on Motza’ei Shabbos this week, I saw that the moon was clearly shining. That meant that we would be able to recite Kiddush L’vanah after Maariv. I turned to the person walking with me, pointed upwards, and remarked, “a sheiner levanah,” Yiddish for “a beautiful moon.” I then added, “Can you imagine a non-Jew ever making such a comment?” That’s not to say that a non-Jew can’t appreciate the beauty of the moon. However, they do not have the same appreciation to “bless the moon,” which is considered equivalent to greeting the Sh’chinah itself. That feeling of excitement expressed in the words “a sheiner levanah” is unique to those who observe mitzvos.
At the funeral of his father, my uncle, Rabbi Yaakov Cohn, related how excited his father would become over performing mitzvos. When he would call his father after Shabbos to ask him how his Shabbos was, if it was a week when Kiddush L’vanah was recited, his father would express how beautiful the Kiddush L’vanah was.
My uncle’s father passed away a few decades ago, but I think about those words every time we recite Kiddush L’vanah.
A few years ago, a rav approached Rav Elyashiv complaining about certain behaviors a group of Jews were displaying. The rav told Rav Elyashiv that he felt the situation needed to be dealt with.
Rav Elyashiv replied by relating the [apocryphal] story about the German leader, Franz Joseph, who one day dispatched an advisor to check up on his Jewish subjects. The advisor returned and reported that he had arrived on a Saturday evening to find all the Jews standing in the street outside their synagogue, looking heavenwards and praying. Franz Joseph was intrigued and summoned a local rabbi, demanding to know why the Jews were praying outside the synagogue instead of inside. The rabbi was taken aback by the question. He thought a moment before he replied that when G-d created the world, the moon complained that its light was equal to the sun. G-d responded by minimizing the light of the moon. Therefore, every month, Jews go outside and pray that G-d restore the light of the moon.
Franz Joseph laughed and replied, “If these are the concerns of the Jews, it seems like things are pretty good among the Jewish people.”
Rav Elyashiv then turned to the rav and said that we have bigger issues to deal with than the relatively petty issue he was bothered by. If that issue would be the Jewish people’s biggest concern, we would be in good shape.
Being Jewish does require doing things that seem eccentric to those outside the fold. The sad thing is when we ourselves don’t seek to appreciate the depth and beauty of our own profound traditions and mitzvos, such as Kiddush L’vanah.
In a similar vein to Rav Elyashiv’s story, at an Agudah convention years ago, Rav Shimon Schwab described a Jew in pre-war Poland reciting Kiddush L’vanah on a bitterly cold Motza’ei Shabbos. This Polish Jew had neither enough money to buy clothing to protect himself from the cold nor to purchase food to stave off his pangs of hunger. Yet, he shivered in the cold beseeching Hashem to return the diminished light of the moon.
Rav Schwab noted that undoubtedly the fact that the moon was symbolically flawed was the least of that Jew’s worries. However, he recognized that all needs will be fulfilled when Mashiach comes and the world witnesses Malchus Shamayim.
Rav Schwab himself had a personal affinity for the mitzvah of Kiddush L’vanah. If he was walking home from shul, and the moon suddenly appeared from behind the clouds, he would stop and recite Kiddush L’vanah then and there.
At one point, when he had to be hospitalized, Rav Schwab was offered a private room on the west side of the hospital with a view overlooking the Hudson River, at no extra charge. Rav Schwab politely declined the offer, explaining that he calculated that the moon would be visible that night on the east side of the hospital, so he wanted a room on that side. The room he was given on the east side wasn’t private and his sickly roommate was moaning all night. Rav Schwab insisted that it was all worth it.
The last month of his life, Rav Schwab was in the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital. He missed Kiddush L’vanah that month for the first and last time in his life.
Rabbeinu Yonah (B’rachos 21a) writes that by witnessing the cycles of the moon, one sees the greatness of Hashem and, therefore, it is considered as if he accepted p’nei HaSh’chinah.
The Darchei Moshe adds that the cycle of the moon symbolizes the Davidic dynasty. Just as the moon wanes and then waxes again, so will Malchus Beis David be reestablished, even centuries after it faded.
At the Siyum HaShas on March 1, 1995, in Madison Square Garden, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita, the Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, delivered the final address, in which he mentioned that the Siyum was dedicated to the memory of the six million who perished during the Holocaust. During that lecture, he related the following story:
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l recounted that he once asked a survivor how he was able to bear five years in a forced labor camp and remain a believer. How could he have emerged with undiminished love for G-d?
The man replied, “They didn’t allow us to keep any mitzvos in the camp. They deprived us of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Torah, etc., and from early morning until late in the evening they guarded us closely.
“But there was one thing they could not take away from us – the moon! There were inmates among us who calculated when Rosh Chodesh was and when Kiddush L’vanah could be recited. On that night, as we would walk back to the barracks with soldiers on both sides, someone would whisper that it was time to recite Kiddush L’vanah. We would hold hands and recite Kiddush L’vanah, and that symbolized everything to us. As we say in Kiddush L’vanah, “To the moon He said that it should renew itself, as a crown of splendor for those borne from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it, and to glorify their Creator for the sake of His glorious kingdom.”
The Rema (Orach Chayim 426:2) writes that Kiddush L’vanah is a t’filah and expression of confidence that the light of the moon will again be equated with the light of the sun. It is also symbolic of the future reunification of klal Yisrael with Hashem, as it were, in perpetuity. Therefore, the Rema writes that one should dance after reciting Kiddush L’vanah.
It turns out then, that the customary dance following Kiddush L’vanah isn’t merely a nice thing to do. Its source is in the Shulchan Aruch itself.
It is a joyous dance with confidence in a better future, the rise of the glory of klal Yisrael, Torah, and k’vod Shamayim. As we dance before the moon, we join Jews throughout the world and throughout history who have performed that same dance with the same hopes and dreams.
We might feel antsy or restless on Motza’ei Shabbos, and not always be so excited to have to walk out of shul and say another t’filah. It entails standing outside in the dark and in summer humidity or the freezing cold winter. But it’s a small price to pay for an opportunity to greet the Sh’chinah and celebrate the undiminished eternal spark and sanguinity of our eternal people. That’s surely something worth dancing about.