Seed of Moonlight Growing, Seed of Justice Sprouting

When Rosh Hodesh, the new moon, falls on Shabbat, Isaiah 66 is the HAFTARAH (Prophetic passage). It may seem obvious that we read this passage because the chapter ends: "... from one new moon to another, and from one Shabbat to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says YHWH."

But why is "all flesh" coming, and why should a universal celebration single out New Moon and Shabbat?

Let us stand in that moment, and see deeply what we see: The tiny spark of moon, visible to every people on the planet as the seed of light, sown in the dark of Heaven, swells toward fullness. And the oddity of Shabbat, visibly like every other day, somehow encoded in all Creation but counted uniquely by the People Israel.

"What is coming," says YHWH, is that "I will gather all peoples and all tongues; they shall come, and see My radiance. ... And of them also I will take some for priests and Levites, says YHWH" (18-21).

Will the oddity of Israel vanish in this radiant sea of celebrating nations, the original seed of insight vanishing as does the seed of light when the moon grows full? No, for "Just as the new heavens and the new earth that I am making will take their stand before My face, says YHWH, so shall your own seed and your own name stand facing Me."

This transformational vision comes after warnings that the temple the People Israel has built as a home for God cannot compare with the great home that God ha built for all life. Indeed, says Isaiah on behalf of God, not to the glory even of a building dedicated to Me will I look lovingly, but to those who are downtrodden, whose breath has been knocked out of them.

As for those who worship in the House of Grandeur, "Whether they slaughter oxen or human beings, whether they offer up sheep or dogs, whether they pour out the blood of pigs or lift up the scent of spices, all of them worship Falsity if they ignore the path that I have taught them."

So there is a complex dynamic here. The same ethical standards apply to Israelites and others. Even our rage at those who sacrifice human beings — let alone our distaste for those who sacrifice dogs or pigs — cannot exempt those of our own community, who so pleasingly offer oxen, sheep, and fragrant spices, from their obligation to walk a path of justice.

And while many Jewish commentators have allegorically seen the people Israel as the moon, swelling and vanishing in its power on the earth, vanishing and swelling, in this evocation of time and offering it i Shabbat, not the New Moon, that is uniquely Israel's. Not the expectation of Growth but the experience of Enough is what we most celebrate on Shabbat.

What does it mean for all the nations to gather in a restful, reflective time?

What unites Rosh Hodesh and Shabbat is that both draw God's empathy to the downtrodden and exhausted:

Shabbat is the moment when we turn away from amassing wealth to sharing it, from bossiness and servility to dignity for all, from giving orders and obeying order to releasing everyone into freedom.

And Rosh Hodesh? The special offerings for the day, which we read in a special additional Torah portion, include an odd formulation: "There shall be one hairy goat as a sin offering for YHWH." (Numbers 28:15)

A sin-offering for God? An offering to expiate God's Own sin? What sin was that?

Ahh, say some of the ancient commentators: When the moon and sun began, God had in mind two equal powers, one to rule over the day; the other, over the night. But the moon questioned whether two rulers could really be equal.

Instead of explaining that they could, God trod down the moon, diminished her light and power. Rosh Hodesh, when the moon is visible but weakest, is when God recalls thi error and tries to expiate it. But ultimately, say Isaiah (30:26), the only expiation will be to make the moon once more as bright as sunlight.

That is the transformation we live toward. The moment of discovery that the power of some need not disempower others. That celebrating the path of Godwrestling need not mean demeaning other paths, but welcoming their celebrants to stand beside us in the sacred house that God has built, to offer there the one sacred path of decent sharing that we as well a they often reject. To turn away from insisting on the triumph of ourselves — to celebrate the triumph of the interwoven breath that breathes all life.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of the Shalom Center,, and author of Godwrestling - Round 2, among many other books of Jewish and spiritual renewal.


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