> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > M'oray Ha'Aish

The Light of the Moon

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

Toward the end of Parshat Pinchas we are told about the various offerings which will be brought in the Temple on the different "Holy Days" which mark the calendar.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command the people of Israel, and say to them, My offering, and My bread for My sacrifices made by fire, for a sweet savor to me, shall you observe to offer to me in their due season. (Numbers 28:1-2)

The services for every day, Shabbat and festivals are then enumerated. On the various holidays a sin offering is included as part of the etiquette for the day.

And in the beginnings of your months you shall offer...And one kid of the goats for a sin offering to the Lord shall be offered, beside the continual burnt offering, and its drink offering. (Numbers 28:11,15)

And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten...And one goat for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you. (Numbers 28:16-17,22)

Also in the day of the first fruits, when you bring a new meal offering to the Lord, in your feast of weeks, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no labor...And one kid of the goats, to make an atonement for you. (Numbers 28:26,30)

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have an holy gathering; you shall do no labor; it is a day of blowing the horn for you...And one kid of the goats for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you. (Numbers 29:1,5)

And you shall have on the tenth day of this seventh month a holy gathering; and you shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any work in it...One kid of the goats for a sin offering; beside the sin offering of atonement (Numbers 29:7,11)

And on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no labor, and you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days...And one kid of the goats for a sin offering; (Numbers 29:12,16)

We find that each day requires a sin offering aside from the other offerings of the day. The choice of the goat as the vehicle to bring about forgiveness is significant. Instead of arbitrariness, the Midrash points to a fascinating association which helps reveal the meaning of the goat.


* * *



One male of the goats for a sin-offering: This was to symbolize Joseph in connection with whom it is written, And they killed a he-goat, etc. [Genesis 37:31] (Midrash Rabbah - Numbers 14:5)1

The implication of this Midrash is that each sin offering must contain within it a measure of cleansing for the sin which was perpetrated against Joseph. When the brothers sold Joseph into slavery they killed a goat and used its blood to stain Joseph's "coat of many colors". This coat was symbolic of the enmity which the brothers felt toward Joseph.

This sin is the prototypical sin between man and his fellow man. And we may conclude based on the usage of the goat in every instance that this sin is constantly among us and more forgiveness and healing is still in order.2

It is interesting that the origin of the problem between the brothers is the speech of Joseph.3 According to the Sages, lashon hara ("evil speech") is considered so severe that it is compared to the major sins in Judaism.

The Chafetz Chaim, based on this association, declared that lashon hara ("evil speech") and sinat chinam ("groundless hatred") are identical – two sides of one coin.4 Therefore every holiday, when communal offerings where brought, man was told to bring forth an offering which would heal the first breech in the community: the sale of Joseph.

This insight into the communal sin offering apparently breaks down when we read the command of the sin offering for the new month which deviates from all the other days.


* * *



While on most days the Torah speaks of one goat for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you. On the new moon the form is changed, and instead the verse reads: And one kid of the goats for a sin offering to the Lord shall be offered. Here the verse speaks of a sin offering to the Lord.. The Hebrew though is not so simple, the words read lichatat laHashem. This could mean a sin offering to God or a sin offering for God. While man surely needs atonement for a host of offences, past and present, what can the term possibly imply if in fact the sin offering is meant to brought for God?

The Talmud offers a couple of possibilities in way of interpretation of this verse, and the shift in language from all the other sin offerings.

What is Rabbi Judah's reason? — Because the text says: And one goat for a sin offering unto the Lord: for a sin which is known only to the Lord shall this goat atone. — But this [superfluous word] we require for the deduction of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, who said: "Why is the New Moon goat different in that [the phrase] onto the Lord is used in connection with it? — [Because] the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'This goat shall be an atonement [for Me, as it were,] for my diminishing the size of the Moon!'"(Talmud - Shevu'oth 9a)

We find two interpretations in the Talmud, the first states that the purpose of the sin offering is for offences which man is unfamiliar with.

This idea is explained by Rashi: All the sin offerings brought in conjunction with the Musaf offering were meant to forgive any inadvertent offence committed in the preparation of the offerings themselves. Here, where it says "for God," Rashi explains that this offering is brought for offences which only God is aware of.

The second explanation is far more difficult. The Talmud insists that it is God who is in need of forgiveness!


* * *



As stated above the very suggestion of God needing forgiveness seems absurd, yet the Talmud insists that God needs to be forgiven for His abuse of the moon. This idea is expanded in a second passage:

Rabbi Shimon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light ... and the lesser light.

The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, "Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown?" He answered: "Go then and make yourself smaller." "Sovereign of the Universe!" cried the moon, "Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller?" He replied: "Go and you will rule by day and by night." "But what is the value of this?" cried the moon. "Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight?" He replied: "Go, Israel shall reckon by you the days and the years." "But it is impossible," said the moon, "to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years." "Go, the righteous shall be named after you as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small."

On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: "Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller." This is what was meant by Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish when he declared: "hy is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.'" (Talmud - Chullin 60b)5

The Talmud indeed concludes that God asks for an offering be brought for Him, because of what happened to the moon.6 According to Talmudic cosmology there was a time that the moon and the sun enjoined equal stature. This is understood by the verse:

And God made two great lights; the large light to rule the day, and the small light to rule the night; and he made the stars. (Genesis 1:16)


* * *



Because of the shift between the first part of the verse and the second the Talmud concluded that at one time both the lights were of equal stature.7 However we must note that both of these lights are independent of the primordial lights, which are referred to on the first day of creation:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

The light that was created on the first day and which shone for the first three days is independent of the light of the sun or the moon which do not make their appearance until the fourth day. This light which shone on the first day is not necessarily part of "creation." A careful reading of the verse in Isaiah will provide insight:

"I am the Lord, and there is no one else, there is no God beside me; I girded you, though you have not known me. That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is no one else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things." (Isaiah 45:5-7)

Light is described as "formed" in contradistinction to "creation." Light is formed while darkness is created. If light is formed then the implication is that it is formed from some type of metaphysical light; this light is refracted and then shines at creation. Therefore we may state that:


  1. There is primordial light.



  2. Additionally, there is the light of the first three days.



  3. Furthermore, there is the original light of the moon and sun.



  4. and finally, there is the light of the sun and the new reduced moon which has been diminished.


Each one of these stages provides its own mystery and requires its own explanation. One thing which we can discern is a process. As a finite world emerges from an infinite Creator, we witness a shift in light.


* * *



One possible explanation of this concept is that the moon is an example of a type of light which exists in darkness. At the point prior to creation all that existed was light -- radiant light of God. This was not the light of the sun, or of other celestial bodies. It was the light of pure good.

At the point of creation when God refracted this metaphysical light, something new was created – darkness. This happened when God withdrew infinity in order to create the finite. This is the meaning of the verse that God says: I form the light, and create darkness. Something new now exists - darkness.

The verse continues I make peace, and create evil. Evil is created as the natural result of God withdrawing from infinity in order to create coexistence. In this new world there will be a possibility of pain and suffering. For this God asks man to bring a sin offering.

On every month when the moon completes its cycle, we are reminded that the world goes through revolution. There are times when God is more manifest, and yet there are times that God's presence is difficult to discern.8 For this we are asked by God to bring a sin offering.9

There is way of understanding the diminishment of the moon. When God attempted to console the moon for its new role and lost grandeur He said: "Go, Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years." The moon is associated with the children of Israel. Like the moon, the fortunes of Israel wax and wane; sometimes there will be darkness and sometimes Israel will shine bright.

The continuation of the dialogue elucidates this point: "Go, the righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small". There are certain individuals in Israel who are known as "small" despite their capability of shining bright:


  • Jacob – the individual most associated with Israel - the collective entity known as the Community of Israel.
  • Samuel - the anointer of kings.
  • King David - the progenitor of the Messiah.



* * *



Israel in general is synonymous with the moon, and hence the moon is used by the Jews to anoint the seasons and months. But David more than any other individual is associated with the moon:

Rabbi Hiyya once saw the [old] moon in the heavens on the morning of the twenty-ninth day. He took a clod of earth and threw it at it, saying, "Tonight we want to sanctify you, and are you still here! Go and hide yourself." Rabbi thereupon said to Rabbi Hiyya, "Go to En Tob and sanctify the month, and send me the watchword, 'David king of Israel is alive and in being.'" (Rosh HaShana 25a)

When intrigue did not allow a clear public declaration of the new moon, the phrase "David king of Israel is alive and in being" was utilized, and all Jews understood the message.

Just as the kingship of the Jews had unfortunately ebbed, and fallen into disuse, the day would come when the grandeur of the Jews would return. If the world had become dark through exile of the Shechina, we could still with confidence believe that the time would yet arrive when God would be fully manifest on this earth in the time of the Messiah.

The Zohar expands on this idea:

Rabbi Yehudah opened a discourse on the verse: Create me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalms 51:12).

He said: "The term a clean heart finds its parallel in the passage: Give your servant therefore an understanding heart" (I Kings 3:9), and also in: But he that is of merry heart hath a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15). This is assuredly the clean heart which David asked for. And renew a steadfast spirit within me indicates the spirit spoken of in the passage, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, this being, as has been pointed out, the spirit of the Messiah.

"The same is alluded to in the promise: And a new spirit will I put within you (Ezekiel 36:26). David thus prayed for that steadfast spirit, since on the sinister side there is the unclean spirit called the spirit of perverseness that leads people astray, that unclean spirit referred to in the statement: The Lord had mingled within her a spirit of perverseness" (Isaiah 14:14). David thus prayed: and renew within me a spirit of steadfastness. The term "renew" also alludes to the renewal of the moon, a period which contains the assurance that David, King of Israel, is alive and in being." (Zohar Genesis 192b)


* * *



Creation of the world included a recoiling on God's part. The Divine light that could fill the world is hidden. It is the mission and destiny of the Jewish people to bring back that light and have it fill the world with incredible luster and beauty. The individual who will spearhead this movement will be a descendant of David.

The passage cited a verse taken from the very beginning of creation:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.

This spirit of God was the spirit of the Messiah.

Despite the cosmic metaphysical trauma of creation, there was from the beginning an apparatus available to bring more light into the world: the spirit of the Messiah – the son of David.

It is interesting that Judaism knows of two Messiahs -- the son of David and the son of Joseph.10

As we saw at the outset, the sin offering is associated with Joseph, it signifies the rejection of Joseph by the brothers. The complaint of the moon was that it is inappropriate for two kings to wear one crown. The brothers did not appreciate Joseph, they thought that he was trying to usurp the crown of Judah, the crown destined for the great descendant of Judah – David. The brothers too thought that one crown can only adorn one king. They felt that greatness and grandeur was the realm of David, it was not meant for Joseph.

Ironically in the period of the First Temple, the time came when the tribe of Joseph usurped the kingdom of Judah. From those days onward we have been saying "David, King of Israel is alive and in being."

We need to be able to usher in the age when both Messiahs may shine bright. The key is the eradication of the hatred which caused the rejection of Joseph. When that is accomplished both lights will be able to shine bright, and no sin offering will be necessary.

At the apex of history, a son of Joseph will usher in an age in which a son of David will enter the world. They will teach us to bring the primordial light down. At that point pain and suffering will disappear, eclipsed forever. In that day the moon will return to it's original size as the light of God caresses and fills the world. The people of Israel will be held in great esteem as they complete their mission. David will then be king. On that day we will no longer need to bring a "sin offering" for God. On that day the sun and the moon will shine bright. Just as the people of Israel will radiate in the light of God and of a world perfected.



  1. See Rashi Numbers 7:22, and the comments of the Chizkuni 28:15. Maimonides in the "Guide for the Perplexed" (3:46) is apparently quite enamored with this explanation, he cites this idea and advises us "not to take it lightly". (return to text)



  2. The Meshech Chachma (Leviticus 16:30) makes this observation, and cites a Midrash that says that the sin of the sale of Joseph remains unhealed and remains from generation to generation. The Meshech Chachma cites Midrash Mishli siman 1, (cited in the Yalkut Shimoni Mishli section 929). (return to text)


  3. See Meshech Chachma Leviticus 8:36. (return to text)


  4. See the introduction to the book "Chafetz Chayim." (return to text)


  5. Also see Zohar Genesis Hashmatot (additional material) Page 252. (return to text)


  6. It is interesting that on Shabbat there is no sin offering, Shabbat is dependent solely on the sun the moon is of no effect. See Shari Tzedek Shar Rishon. (return to text)


  7. It is unclear if each was an independent light or they were the same size even though the moon enjoyed the light of the sun, as its source of light. See Avodat Hakodesh 4:8. (return to text)



  8. The Vilna Gaon explained this idea by use of a verse in Song of Songs 2:9 "My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart; Behold, he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice." There are times that we feel God looking through the window gazing at us, on the other hand there are times which we barely feel God peeking through the cracks. (return to text)


  9. See Zohar Genesis 20b where the sun and moon are associated with different names of God. (return to text)



  10. Sukka 52. (return to text)



This week's parsha is dedicated by Devorah Zissela Rudolph to Naomi and Moshe Chinn in celebration of the birth of their precious baby daughter, Yael Tzipporah, on 12 Tammuz 5767.

1 2 3 2,914

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram