The sun and moon symbolize constancy and change respectively, which two elements are paralleled in man and in mankind. A leap year, when the solar and lunar years are reconciled, teaches that both elements must function simultaneously.

The Jewish calendar is essentially a lunar one, yet the festivals are fixed according to the seasons1 — the solar year. Because the solar year is longer than the lunar year, a month2 is added every few years to reconcile the two, thus ensuring that the festivals fall out in their proper season. The year which contains this extra month is called a leap year.

Constancy & Change

The principal difference between the sun and moon lies in their function, which, in the words of Scripture,3 is “to give light to the earth.” The sun emits a constant amount of light day after day. The moon, in contrast, waxes and wanes. The sun thus symbolizes constancy, permanency; the moon change and renewal. The two are inherent opposites: but in a leap year they are reconciled and come together.

Man is a microcosm of the world,4 and all phenomena found therein are reflected in man’s life. The different natures of the sun and moon thus exist within man the individual, and within mankind at large. And, consonant to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that everything can provide lessons for man’s service to G‑d, the idea of a leap year — when sun and moon come together — teaches that these two very different natures within man can and should be reconciled.

One of man’s most important faculties is his intellect, that he is a thinker. Two opposite types of mind exist, eloquently described by the Mishnah in Avos:5 “A cemented cistern which does not lose a drop” and “a fountain which flows with ever-increasing strength.” The latter depicts a person whose nature is always to originate, to learn new things, to discover fresh insights. He is a “moon” person. The former describes one who is not so interested in learning new things as in ensuring that he “does not lose a drop” of the knowledge he already possesses. He is a “sun” person.

The above two types of thinkers are paralleled by the thinking process itself. Every discipline is based on axioms, unchanging assumptions that form the basis for further study — the “sun” aspect in thinking. The second aspect in study — ”moon” — is when one builds on these basics, and through dialectic reasoning, develops new insights.

The parallel goes further. Without the sun the moon cannot shine, for the moon’s light is a reflection of the sun’s. Without the basic axioms, dialectics and intellectual debate are impossible, for the latter proceeds from the former. Moreover, the new moon follows the total eclipse of the old. In intellectual study, a totally original thesis is possible only when the previous one has been demolished. If the two are even somewhat similar, it is possible to build on the first. But when one wishes to propound a new hypothesis, the former must first be discarded.

A leap year, when the lunar year and solar year are reconciled, teaches that man must also reconcile these two contradictory elements in his nature. An original thinker, a developer of fresh ideas (a “moon” person), must simultaneously ensure that his previous knowledge remains intact. Conversely, a “moon” person, one who concentrates on retaining what he already possesses, cannot stagnate but must also make efforts to progress further.

The Educational Dichotomy

These two kinds of thinking and thinkers translate into the way knowledge is transmitted — the educational process. There too we find the two opposite streams symbolized by the sun and moon.

On the one hand, a parent or educator endeavors to implant in a child unchanging, enduring values and truths (“sun”), principles of justice and righteousness. More specifically, in the case of a Jew, unwavering, unshakeable belief in G‑d and his Torah.

On the other hand, one tries to instill in a child the will to always progress, to grow, to constantly learn new things (“moon”). A leap year, when sun and moon are brought together, teaches that while a child must be given a firm basis in life, taught to behave in consonance with the eternal truths of Torah, he must simultaneously be encouraged to constantly grow, mature, reach new plateaus of achievement.

“Sun” and “Moon” in Mankind

The same dichotomy in man, the microcosm, applies to the macrocosm. On the one hand, every country desires to become wealthier, more powerful, to grow (“moon”). On the other hand, for it to remain a stable, productive society, not wracked by upheaval and chaos, it must have as its underpinnings those values which are unchanging and unchangeable: justice and righteousness (“sun”). In general, these are the Seven Noachide Laws.6 A society based on foundations contrary to G‑d’s commandments cannot develop into a decent, productive country. Conversely, a country which is self-complacent and elects to vegetate, will eventually decay and become unstable.

Growth of a state must also be based on the eternal truths given by G‑d, the Creator and Master of the world. An end does not justify the means. Unjust or unrighteous conduct cannot be justified by the end, no matter, how noble or honorable that end is supposed by its architects.

A further point, particularly applicable to our times. The nature of every living organism is to grow, not to contract and withdraw into isolation. A country must not cut itself off from the rest of the world and grow only within and for itself. An isolationist attitude, besides being practically impossible to put into effect, not only damages others, but in the end boomerangs on the country which practices it. Friends will not only be lost, but enemies will be made.

Thus, although other countries may not have progressed as far as this one, and their ethicomoral standards leave much to be desired, no good will come from severing ties. Indeed, such a state of affairs serves as good reason to maintain relations and to extend help — to allow them to achieve their full potential in creating a decent society. Influence in this direction may at times be benign, sometimes more severe measures are required; either way contact is necessary.

The best way to exert influence is to be an example of the righteous and ethical conduct demanded of other countries. Any other way simply won’t work. Truth will out, and efforts at hoodwinking other nations regarding one’s own imperfections are doomed to fail. Gains achieved through political chicanery are temporary at best. Enduring success results from adherence to enduring values — upon which foundations only, a society worthy of the name will grow and prosper.

6th Day of Tishrei, 5744