March 29, 2016
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1015, Parsha Thought, Shmini


One of the most important days of the year is Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month of) Nissan which is the subject of the beginning of this week’s parsha. In most years this parsha is read after Passover. This year, because an extra leap year month has been added, this parsha is read the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The confluence of events (reading the parsha discussing the events of Rosh Chodesh Nissan in close proximity to that day) compels us to reflect on the importance of this day.

Prior to the exodus from Egypt, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, G-d informed Moshe of their liberation and the laws concerning the very first Paschal offering. In addition, G-d revealed to Moshe how the Jewish calendar is based on the sighting of the new moon, which establishes that day as the first of the month. In addition, as noted above, the Jewish calendar also adds an extra month every few years to make up for the disparity between a lunar year (12x29 ½ days = 364 days) and the solar year (365 days). This way, Passover is always guaranteed to occur in the spring as the Torah requires.

But, this is not the first of Nissan the Torah discusses in this week’s parsha. Here it refers to the next year’s first of Nissan, the day on which the Mishkan-portable sanctuary was dedicated after seven days of initiation and preparation.

Upon reflection it can be demonstrated that the events of the two first Rosh Chodesh Nissans are conceptually linked. We can understand the connection between them by first gaining a better understanding of the spiritual dynamic of an added month in a Jewish leap year:


The removal of disparity between the solar and the lunar systems is far more than a technical adjustment to the calendar. It also relates to the prophecy that in the Messianic Age the moon’s light will be equal to the sun, as mentioned in the “sanctification of the moon” prayer we recite each month:

“May it be Your will, G-d my G-d and G-d of my fathers, to fill the defect of the moon so that there be no diminution in it, and may the light of the moon be as the light of the sun, as the light of the Seven Days of Creation, as it was before it was diminished, as it is said: ‘And G-d made the two great luminaries.’”

This prayer alludes to the Midrashic account of the creation of the sun and the moon. Initially, they were created equal, but when the moon argued that “two kings cannot wear the same crown,” G-d ordered the moon to diminish itself.

However we are to understand the dialogue with the moon, it is clear that something went awry shortly after the creation of the sun and the moon. And this discrepancy will not be corrected until the days of Moshiach.

However, whenever we create some measure of parity between the solar and lunar calendars, we get a taste of the future.

The question remains – why is that considered such an accomplishment?

The Kabbalists explain that the reduction of the moon was the first step G-d took to bring imperfection, disparity, inequity and even the potential to sin, to the world. While Adam and Chava were the first to sin, the impetus for that was G-d’s own doing when He ordered the moon to diminish itself, thereby diminishing its ability to radiate Divine clarity to the world. Thus, any time or event that reverses that disparity is a cause for celebration because it gives us a taste of the future and provides us with a greater potential to bring an end to the pain and suffering associated with, and which originated in, the diminution of the moon.

We can now understand the connection between the reference to the restoration of the light to the moon and the request we have for Moshiach in the Sanctification of the Moon prayer.

When we ask for the moon’s light to return to its former glory, it is our way of saying we want Moshiach, because the two are intertwined. Moshiach will reverse the breaches and flaws in our world and thus the moon will radiate as strongly as the sun.


The question now reverses itself. Why would G-d want to introduce and impose imperfection on the world?

The answer lies in our very reason to exist. G-d created us to be sensitive to the injustices in the world and its imperfections and struggle to correct them.

In truth, when Moshiach ushers in the final Redemption, all the past suffering and pain will cease. Moreover, we will then see all of the past pain in a completely different light. We will be able to finally understand, in hindsight, why everything happened the way it did, and how everything fit into G-d’s perfect Master Plan.

But why doesn’t G-d reveal to us the secret behind all of the suffering now? Why have the greatest prophets and leaders, from Moshe, Yirmiyahu, Iyov and countless others through the ages, asked to understand the reason for all the suffering and came up short?

In a now famous, powerful and emotional talk the Rebbe explained that if G-d would reveal to us now why there is suffering, we would not feel the pain of others; we would make peace with it and not be moved to do anything to change it. G-d wants us to be sensitive to the other’s pain and not look for ways of rationalizing it away.

And here is the ultimate paradox of Jewish thought. On the one hand we believe with perfect faith that everything that G-d does is good, and one day, imminently, with the coming of Moshiach, we will be able to see the goodness with our own eyes. However, it is our responsibility now to ignore the Divine reality that G-d chose for that person to suffer and do everything in our power to alleviate that suffering and remove its root causes to the extent of human capabilities.


We can now understand the radical Talmudic statement (Chullin 60b) that the goat sacrifice offered on Rosh Chodesh was intended for G-d’s own “atonement,” as it were, for His “sin” of diminishing the moon. Thus, the Torah refers to this offering as a “Sin offering for G-d.”

At first glance, this is both puzzling and astonishing! How can we impute a sin to G-d?

The answer is that G-d wants us to recognize that He Himself is not fond of the disparity in the world that He orchestrated, and that it was not intended as a permanent fixture. On the contrary, He wants us to do everything in our power to reverse it! He wants us to fight against it and even pray to and demand of Him that He bring Moshiach to reverse that situation.

This is the meaning of the word sin-chatas that the Torah uses. It actually means a shortcoming or vacuum. On Rosh Chodesh, particularly, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, G-d wants us to increase our efforts to fill in that void and reverse the process of disparity.


We must now understand what sort of connection there is between this theme of parity between the sun and the moon with the dedication of the Mishkan, which is highlighted in this parsha.

In this parsha, the Torah relates how Moshe was upset at Aaron for having burnt the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice instead of partaking of it. Normally, the atonement process is made complete only after the Kohanim actually partake of the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice. In the end Moshe accepted Aaron’s explanation for having burnt the sacrifice.

But, whatever, the explanation, the question has been raised, how could it have been that the very first Rosh Chodesh sacrifice in history was ineffective?

The contemporary Chassidic commentary, Emunas Itecha, provides an interesting solution to this problem in light of the foregoing analysis of G-d’s need for atonement.

As mentioned, Rosh Chodesh highlights the disparity between the sun and the moon, the source of everything that is broken in our world. Furthermore, the very purpose of that Divinely ordained disparity was for us to reverse it. G-d wants us to restore that light and remove the disparity and the pain and suffering that exists as a consequence of the moon’s diminution. In Messianic times that effort will come to fruition.

When the Mishkan was built and dedicated on Rosh Chodesh Nissan there was not just a nice and uplifting celebration. It provided the Jewish people with a taste or sample of the future rectification of the diminution of the moon and of all its consequences. That first Rosh Chodesh did not need the atonement and correction because for that one day they experienced the Messianic perfection.

Lest we think that pain and suffering will never come to an end and that we can at best only manage it, we were given a powerful lesson on that Rosh Chodesh. There was no need to partake of the sacrifice to affect atonement for G-d’s creation of disparity because that situation will be corrected in the end of days.

The dedication occurred on the eighth day (after seven days of preparation), which is the very name of the parsha. Commentators emphasize that the number eight is representative of the future Messianic Age because the number eight represents transcendence. In that Age we will transcend the Divinely instituted pattern of disparity that became a part of nature.

One may add that the dedication of the Mishkan not only provided us with a vision of and hope for the future but also the inspiration, resources and power to change the disparity dynamic.

We now can see how everything connected with the timing of this parsha comes together.

This is a leap year, a sample of the removal of the disparity between the sun and the moon.

We are in close proximity to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the day in which the calendar, with the provision of a leap year, was put into place.

The parsha discusses the dedication of the Mishkan and the failure to eat of the sacrifice to remind us that on that day, the seeds for the removal of disparity were sown.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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