Also known as Yom Kippur Katan, Rosh Chodesh can be like a mini Yom Kippur, with fasting and prayer in preparation to receive the new month. A prayer is said outside at night:
“Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who created the skies with His word, and all heaven’s host with the breath of His mouth. He gave them appointed times and roles, and they never miss their cues, doing their Creator’s bidding with gladness and joy. He is the true creator who acts faithfully, and He has told the moon to renew itself. It is a beautiful crown for the people carried by God from birth, who will likewise be renewed in the future in order to proclaim the beauty of their creator for His glorious majesty. Blessed are you, Lord, who renews new moons.”
Or words to that effect. The source of the commandment to bless the new moon may be found in Exodus 12:2, which says, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first of the months for you.” Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 42a says, “Whoever blesses the month in its prayer time receives the Divine Presence.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (German, 19th century) wrote, “Each time the moon finds the sun again, each time it receives its rays of light afresh, God wants His people to find Him again, and to be illuminated with fresh rays of His light, wherever and however in their course they have had to pass through a period of darkness and obscurity….This renewal of the moon shall be a beginning of renewals for you. Noticing, realizing the fresh birth of the moon shall induce you to achieve a similar rejuvenation. You are to fix your moons, your periods of time, by taking note of this ever-fresh, recurring rejuvenation.”
In addition to the sabbath, which Heschel described as a sanctuary in time, we have a monthly occasion to renew our sense of awe at the beauty of the universe, and to get back on track if we have strayed off the path – if we have lost touch with our capacity for inner peace. To appreciate the natural world is to engage in what Heschel called “radical amazement.” To welcome the moon is to express gratitude for God’s creation, and thus to reaffirm the value of life.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how to maintain inner balance, wholeness, integrity, and peace (aka shalom) when faced with stressful, tumultuous times. The pressure of being the primary supporter of a family of four, knowing I might lose my job in a couple of months, and if that happens, I will also lose my health insurance….Well, I’m a little flipped out, even though in theory I know I should relax about things that are beyond my control. This is another way of saying “trust God.”
When I hear the news, regardless of the source, what comes through most often is the urge to panic, give up, give in, and shut down. The daily onslaught of grief and mayhem overwhelms me. Sometimes I wonder if one of the goals of the news media is to manipulate us into feeling helpless and hopeless, or even to actively stoke racial and class divisions, so we will be so caught up in hating and worn down by misery that we won’t have the time or energy to change things.
Recently, I learned about rainwater catchment procedures, and felt empowered, because knowing how to collect rainwater for domestic use means I can learn the grim details about water privatization without sinking into despair. Even though I can’t afford the materials or installation now, the information shows that solutions are possible. If I wait for a movement or a message from outside to tell me what to do, whether from a political party, an organization, a business, or the government, I am more likely to end up serving an agenda that doesn’t help me or the people I care about.