Sun and Moon

People have always looked up to the heavens for clues about the mysteries of the universe, and for an understanding of their place within it.

Some fell in love with the moon, intrigued by her soft and gentle glow, comforted by her light illuminating the night sky. As they watched the waxing and waning of the moon, completing a cycle in just about thirty days, they realized that she offered a convenient and straightforward way to mark the passage of time.

As people became more sophisticated and started developing agriculture, they began to realize the significance of the solar cycle. Although the changes in the sun's position is harder to notice as compared with the changing shape of the moon, they understood the power of the solar calendar to predict major economic events. To know when to plant or to predict the overflowing of the Nile, you need to look to the sun. Craving the sun’s power, strength and brilliance, they began moving away from the lunar calendar and adopting the solar one.

The Mitzvah

The first mitzvah G‑d commanded the Jewish people, just as He was about to liberate them from Egypt and establish them as an independent, free people, was the commandment to establish a Hebrew calendar. As slaves, they did not control their own time, nor were they free to think about time on their own terms. Their time—and their perspective on life—was controlled by the powerful Egyptians. To be truly free, they would have to learn to think about time—its purpose and meaning—on their own terms.

So which calendar should they choose?

Which would be their primary one? Would they identify with the mighty, powerful, masculine sun, or with the more subtle, reflective, feminine beauty of the moon?

An essential feature of the Hebrew calendar is that it synchronizes the lunar and solar cycles. It does so by establishing a leap year, adding a lunar month approximately every three years, closing the eleven-day gap between the lunar and solar years.

While not the first to sync the calendars, the Hebrew calendar is unique in that the synchronization of the sun and the moon is a central feature.

G‑d and Us

The way we think about time informs our attitude towards the universe as a whole: What is the purpose of creation? Does life have meaning? Does time have meaning? The Jew’s answer is that the purpose of everything is the unity of the sun and the moon, of giver and receiver, of G‑d and the Jewish people.

The brilliant sun symbolizes the consistent, powerful and illuminating light of G‑d. The moon shining in the dark sky represents the Jewish people, whose job it is to reflect the light of G‑d into a dark world. The Jewish people, therefore, are subject to challenges imposed by the world. At times they shine in all their glory, and at times their light is hidden.

The first commandment demonstrates the goal of all the following commandments, which is to synchronize the sun and the moon. Every mitzvah we perform draws down divine energy and connects the light of G‑d with the Jew in this world, uniting them, forming one reality where “in the heaven above and on the earth below, there is nothing besides Him.”1

Moses and Aaron

No surprise then, that the commandment to establish the calendar was one of just a few commandments related to both Moses and Aaron: “The Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, to say . . .”2

If our calendar synchronizes the sun and the moon, then it should be given through our metaphorical sun and moon. Moses, through whom the Torah was given, is our sun. He shines with a radiant light from above, communicating divine wisdom with great passion and energy. Aaron is our moon. He teaches us how to refine ourselves to the point that we can reflect the light of G‑d. He teaches us how to get along with other people. He understands that peace may, in some cases, be more important than truth.

Both the word of G‑d and the way the people absorb and reflect it are important to our mission. We need a Moses and an Aaron. A sun and a moon.