Every month, as the new moon becomes sufficiently visible for us to benefit from its soft light, we go outside and recite the kiddush levanah prayer (lit. "the sanctification of the moon"). The heart of this prayer is a blessing wherein we praise G‑d:

"...And He directed the moon to renew herself as a crown of glory to [the Jewish nation], who likewise are destined to be renewed like her..."

The Jewish nation marches to the beat of the lunar calendar, as opposed to the more universally followed solar calendar. For we identify with the moon and its constant fluctuations. In the words of the Midrash:1

"On the first of Nissan,2 the moon begins to illuminate. As the days continue, her luminosity increases, until the 15th day, when her disk is full... Likewise is Israel. Fifteen generations from Abraham until Solomon; Abraham began illuminating... with Solomon, the moon's disk was filled."

And just as after the fifteenth day of the lunar month, the moon begins to wane, our people, too, began to wane after Solomon's generation. The generation that followed saw the division of the nation into two antagonistic kingdoms; Israel never reclaimed the glory it had seen in the days of Solomon. Over the coming centuries, exiles, persecution, and near-complete spiritual blackness ensued.

The moon's rebirth reminds us that we, likewise, "are destined to be renewed like her..."Which is why we are so heartened by Rosh Chodesh, the monthly semi-holiday that celebrates the birth of the new moon. Before the new month is born, the moon completely disappears from our view, emitting not an iota of light. But that eclipse is followed by the moon's rebirth, reminding us that we, likewise, "are destined to be renewed like her..." And along with our nation's rebirth with the coming of Moshiach, the entire world will also be renewed—as a result of our nation's millennia-long toil in the darkness of exile.

This concept of renewal, and the symbolism it carries, is so integral to the lunar calendar that the Jewish month is called a chodesh, which is etymologically rooted in the Hebrew word chiddush, renewal.

A Premature Celebration?

Based, however, on the above-quoted Midrash, it seems somewhat incongruous to compare the Redemption to the renewal of the moon. After all, the state of perfection that we will reach at that time will surpass even the perfection that prevailed during Solomon's time. This idea is expressed in the kiddush levanah liturgy, wherein we pray for the day when "the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun... as it was before it was diminished."3

Should not, then, the redemption be compared to the moon when it's at its fullest and most brilliant point? Why is the Redemption, the moment of our consummate fulfillment, analogous to the moon's rebirth, a moment when it emits only a diminutive and weak crescent of light?

Childish Prayer

To understand the significance of the moon's – and our – rebirth, it would be helpful to first examine the difference between a child (who's still not far removed from his moment of birth) and an adult; and specifically, the difference in the way the two relate to G‑d.

There was once a great sage4 who asserted: "I pray with the mind of a child." He meant that when he prayed, he refused to consider the many spiritual worlds, levels, attributes, and conduits; the various manifestations, expressions, and definitions of G‑d as lengthily described in the mystical texts. He prayed to G‑d alone, just as a child prays to G‑d alone—blissfully unaware of all the kabbalistic teachings.

For G‑d at His very essence transcends all manifestations, attributes, and descriptions. So why bother with them all, reasoned the sage—better pray to G‑d Himself, as He defies any sort of description or classification whatsoever.

The child's prayer has a quality that this sage's lacks—despite his sincerest efforts to produce a child-like prayerIn truth, however, the child's prayer has a quality that this sage's lacks—despite his sincerest efforts to produce a child-like prayer.

For this sage cannot avoid the fact that he is aware of all the divine levels and attributes to whom he is deliberately not addressing his prayers. As such, when he prays, he does so by negating all those levels he's learned about: he is praying to the G‑d who cannot be defined as "wise," who cannot be defined as "capable," etc.5—for all these adjectives, though positive and coveted in the realm of creations, cannot possibly describe the G‑d who created them (and ascribed value to them)!

And so the sage continues negating all qualities he is aware of, for any concept comprehendible to a creation cannot possibly apply to G‑d.6 As the kabbalists say, "The ultimate comprehension is to understand that we have no understanding of You."

The sage is thus left with an overwhelming feeling of awe due to G‑d's transcendence and exaltedness.

But in doing so, the sage is, in a sense, doing the opposite of what he is intending. He is defining G‑d. He's defining Him as transcendent and exalted. Furthermore, since his point of reference is all the qualities that he repudiated, he is creating a correlation between G‑d and these very qualities. A negative correlation, but a correlation nonetheless.7

A child, on the other hand, has no conceptions about G‑d. He has no definitions, none even that he must negate. He doesn't pray to a "transcendent" or "exalted" being—just to G‑d Himself. The true essence of G‑d.

The implication of the sage's conception is not limited to prayer; it impacts his entire relationship with G‑d. Since G‑d is above and beyond all, he must relate to G‑d in similar fashion—through the repudiation of his talents and qualities and even his very sense of self. He completely nullifies all these in favor of mesirat nefesh, utter self-nullification in the service of his Creator.

The child knows of no such thing. He relates to G‑d in all aspects of his everyday life—his eating, his drinking, etc. His very essence is connected to G‑d, and he has no need to negate his existence to connect to G‑d.

Greater than Modeh Ani

We experience the level of the child and the level of the sage every day, every morning when we wake up and with our first words.

At that moment – before we have a chance to say or do anything – there is only the person, in his purest essence, born anew another dayThe very first thing a Jew does after awakening is to proclaim the Modeh Ani. "I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King..."

The first word uttered is modeh, "thanks," which also translates as "acknowledgement." Even before saying ani, "I," even before acknowledging the existence and needs of an "I," we express our acknowledgement of, and complete devotion to, the Master of the universe.8 In fact, chassidic teachings explain that the Modeh Ani is an expression of the Yechidah, the loftiest of the soul's five names (manifestations), the soul-level that represents utter nullification to the will of G‑d, the soul-level that allows a person to transcend himself and even, if necessary, sacrifice all for his Creator.

But the Yechidah is only a manifestation and expression of the soul9; much as the recitation of the Modeh Ani is only an expression of a person's commitment to G‑d. By definition, any act or statement isn't the person himself, it is only a mode of expression.

And then there is the very essence of the soul. The essence that is reborn as a "new creation"10 in that primal moment when we awaken from our sleep. At that moment – before we have a chance to say or do anything, before we can even express our devotion to G‑d – there is only the person, in his purest essence, born anew another day. And this essence is absolutely one with G‑d.

It is this moment that constitutes the foundation of the entire day. During the course of the daily prayers this essential bond with G‑d will illuminate all the five levels of the soul. And when we leave the synagogue to tackle all the everyday tasks that await, this essential connection will still be our guiding light, enabling us to infuse all our doings with meaning, and to transform the entire world into a dwelling place for its Creator.

Essence vs. Transcendence

In summation, there are two modes of relating to G‑d:

a) "The sage's prayer," exemplified by the Modeh Ani. In this mode, we relate to G‑d via all our soul-powers, up to and including our Yechidah. Somewhat paradoxically, this relationship thrives by means of the negation and nullification of the very soul-powers and talents – the sense of self – that it is predicated upon.

b) "The child's prayer," epitomized in the soul's rebirth the moment it wakes up in the morning. In this mode the relationship is based on the very essence of the soul which is one with G‑d. As such, no negations are necessary; all that is needed is to illuminate all of one's existence with this essential oneness.

In the lunar cycle, these two modes are represented by (a) the first appearance of the moon each month and (b) the full moon.

At the moment when the new moon appears, we appreciate its emergence, that fact that it is.11 On the fifteenth of the month, we celebrate the moon's light, its mode of expression.

The Messianic Rebirth

Based on this understanding it is clear why the Messianic Redemption is compared to the rebirth of the moon, as opposed to the full moon. For with the coming of Moshiach, the essence of the Jewish soul will be revealed in her full glory.12

On that day, the fullness of the moon will serve as an expression of its essenceNevertheless, this doesn't contradict the above-cited Midrash that compares the Messianic Era to the full moon. Because ultimately the uniqueness of that era doesn't lie in the existence of the essence – the essence of the soul exists today too – but in the fact that the soul's essence will be revealed and permeate every moment of the person's day, every faculty and talent, every thought, deed, and action. Every breath that a Jew will take will be a palpable expression of his essential connection with G‑d.

Still, the celebration of the fullness of the moon is only a corollary of its rebirth. On that day, the fullness of the moon will serve as an expression of its essence.

And every month,13 as the moon is renewed on Rosh Chodesh, as its essence reemerges, the essence of the Jewish soul – which is a "spark" of the soul of Moshiach – is also revealed, engendering renewal in all areas of our lives, and enabling us to bring about the actual revelation of Moshiach.

The Practical Implications

  1. The essence of the soul exists no matter a Jew's level of observance, knowledge, or sense of devotion to G‑d. This simple knowledge is sufficient to permeate all areas of life with the person's essential oneness with G‑d. And there's no need to wait until achieving perfection in the aforementioned areas before beginning to live in harmony with this essence.
  2. Our Sages tell us,14 "All the days of your life—to bring the days of Moshiach."15 The imperative that we devote ourselves to the task of bringing the days of Moshiach is not merely that "all the deeds of our lives" towards this endeavor, but rather, the very days of our life, our very life itself, are to be permeated with this mission.
    When the essence is at the fore, then a person's very life is consumed with bringing Moshiach—even when he is not actually involved – or even consciously thinking – about it. It is part and parcel of the person's identity.
    And this then expresses itself in all areas of life, with the person jumping at the chance to do any mitzvah, cognizant of the fact that any mitzvah can be the one to tip the cosmic scale and bring about the coming of Moshiach.
  3. The acts done to hasten the coming of Moshiach need not be limited to those of a spiritual nature—connected with lofty soul-powers (e.g., studying and teaching mystical texts). For there's no need to negate the body in favor of the soul, even the highest soul powers.

Based on the Rebbe's last public address for Parshat Toldot, delivered on Parshat Toldot 5752 (1991) (and in talks on the days preceding and following the Shabbat).