If you were sending off your child on a long, lonely, and dangerous journey, what would your encouraging words be to her? What essential message would you want to give her to invigorate her for the challenges ahead?

The Jewish people finally left Egypt after decades of back-breaking servitude. As they became a freed people, they were given their first mitzvah to observe as a nation.

I’d assume this mitzvah would be of great importance, something cosmic. Perhaps it would define their character as exceptionally moral people or demonstrate the depth of their faith in G‑d.

Instead, they were commanded to consecrate new months based on the rebirth of the moon’s sightings. Through the moon, we establish our calendars, our holidays and traditions—a key feature of Jewish life. Nevertheless, shouldn’t this first mitzvah be more integral to the essence of who we are?

But perhaps the moon more than anything defines us as a nation. The Zohar teaches: The people of Israel set their calendar by the moon, because they are the moon of the world.

Midrash Rabbah explains: The moon begins to shine on the 1st of the month and increases in luminance till the 15th day, when her orb becomes full; from the 15th till the 30th day, her light wanes, on the 30th it is not seen at all. With Israel too, there were 15 generations from Abraham to Solomon. Abraham began to shine… Jacob added to this light… When Solomon appeared, the moon’s orb was full… Henceforth the kings began to diminish … With Zedekiah [when the Holy Temple was destroyed] the light of the moon dimmed entirely.

We had just been slaves for decades in Egypt, beaten, tortured and hated. Despite our oppression, rather than breaking us as a people, we emerged; crushed perhaps, but never broken. As the persecutions increased, the Jewish heart and soul grew stronger. “The more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” (Exodus. 1:12)

As we prepared to take our first steps as a free nation on a journey that would stretch millennia, scattering us to the far corners of the world to become a light unto the nations, G‑d impressed upon our psyche a vital message for our endurance.

The story of the moon is the story of our people. Like the moon, the Jewish people dip and soar through history. Yet, from each defeat, we have risen stronger. Our highest achievements will be born of moments of despair, each descent leading to a new ascent, each decline bringing us to unprecedented new heights.

Just as the disappearance of the moon is part of its reemergence, the darkness is part of our journey. It is there so we can light the way—and more importantly, so that we can discover our own inner light.