Just as the moon becomes full after 15 days and begins to wane thereafter, so too the Davidic dynasty, after fifteen kings had descended from Dovid, sovereignty diminished in the days of Tzidkiyahu; only a glimmer of it remained – Rabban Gamliel in Bavel and the Nasi in Eretz Yisroel. But then their reign will be renewed and continue. * From Chapter Fourteen of Rabbi Shloma Majeski’s Likkutei Mekoros, Volume 2. (Underlined text is the compiler’s emphasis.)
Translated by Boruch Merkur
Gemara Sanhedrin 38a: Yehuda and Chizkiya, the sons of Rebbi Chiya, once sat at table with Rebbi [Yehuda HaNasi], and uttered not a word. Rebbi said to his servants: “Give the young men plenty of strong wine, so they may be more inclined to speak.” When the wine took effect, they began to speak, saying: “Ben Dovid [i.e., Moshiach] will not come until the two ruling houses of the Jewish people come to an end – namely, the Exilarchate in Babylon (Rosh Gola Sh’B’Bavel) and the Patriarchate (Nasi) in Eretz Yisroel – as it is written, ‘And it shall be for a portent and a bludgeoning stone and for a rock upon which to stumble for the two houses of Yisroel’ (Yeshayahu 8:14).”
Upon hearing the prediction of the demise of the office he held, Rebbi exclaimed, “My children, you throw thorns in my eyes!”
At this, R. Chiya remarked, “Master, be not enraged, for the numerical value of the letters that spell ‘yayin-wine’ is seventy and that of ‘sod-secret’ is also seventy, teaching that when wine is imbibed, secrets emerge.”
Maharsha: “Ben Dovid will not come until … when wine is imbibed, secrets emerge”: This concept is explained in terms of the Mitzva of ibbur ha’chodesh (sanctifying the new month) and what is said in the second chapter of Meseches Rosh HaShana [25a]: “Rebbi Chiya once saw the moon in the heavens on the morning of the twenty-ninth day [which was a sign that the new moon would not appear for at least twenty-four hours]. He took a clod of earth and hurled it towards the moon, saying, ‘Tonight we want to sanctify you [so Yom Kippur would not be on Sunday, immediately following Shabbos, which would be a difficult and severe transition from the pleasure of Shabbos to the deprivations of Yom Kippur] yet you are still here! Go and hide yourself [before nightfall, so that there should be no appearance of the old moon after the twenty-ninth day is over, which would prevent the thirtieth day from being proclaimed New Moon ––Rashi]!’
“Rebbi thereupon said to R. Chiya: ‘Go to Ein Tav [a place in Judah where the Jewish court used to meet to sanctify the month ––Tosafos], sanctify the month [disregarding what you have seen], and send me the watchword, “Dovid king of Israel is alive and well” [see T’hillim 89:38].’”
The intent here with the choice of watchword is to liken the new moon to the Davidic dynasty, as stated in Midrashos – that just as the moon becomes full after 15 days and begins to wane thereafter, so too the Davidic dynasty, after fifteen kings had descended from Dovid, sovereignty diminished in the days of Tzidkiyahu; only a glimmer of it remained – Rabban Gamliel in Bavel and the Nasi in Eretz Yisroel. The moon gradually wanes from the fifteenth day, shrinking until it disappears completely, but then it is [reborn and] renewed with light. So too, after the Davidic dynasty totally disappears – after even the rule of Rabban Gamliel in Bavel and the Nasi in Eretz Yisroel have died out – then their reign will be renewed [and continue].
To that end, since the concealment of the moon was to Rebbi, who was Nasi, a sign that his leadership would end, he did not want to [be the one to] say, “Go and hide yourself!” [despite the benefit it entailed regarding the date of Yom Kippur]; he preferred that it should come from Rebbi Chiya. Rebbi Chiya, however, in sympathy with Rebbi, also did not want to sanctify the month on the thirtieth day, which would require that he consider it as if the moon were still hidden then. Indeed, it is a positive sign when the moon is not hidden, as it signifies the continuity of the Nesius. Rebbi then ordered Rebbi Chiya to sanctify the moon, being hidden as a result of his command, “Go and hide yourself!”
Moreover, Rebbi told Rebbi Chiya, “send me the watchword, ‘Dovid king of Israel is alive and well,’” meaning that although the concealment of the moon is a negative sign for the Nesius, foretelling its demise, in another sense it is actually a positive sign, indicating that “Dovid King of Yisroel is alive and well” – that after the cessation of the Nesius, the Davidic dynasty will be renewed and the glory of Dovid will sprout forth. Rebbi therefore told Rebbi Chiya, “Go to Ein Tav and sanctify the month.” The reference to Ein Tav (literally, good eye) emphasizes that it is actually a siman tov, a positive sign.
Thus, the Gemara here in Sandhedrin states, “Ben Dovid will not come until the two ruling houses in Yisroel come to an end” – the houses of Rabban Gamliel and the Nasi. For after the Davidic rule will be totally eliminated – like the moon after fifteen days, when it is completely diminished – it will then be renewed like the rebirth of the moon.
Rebbi agonized over the demise of his rule, and Rebbi Chiya told him, “Master, be not enraged,” for in virtue of “wine is imbibed,” the secret of the ibbur (the sanctification of the new month) will emerge from them [from Yehuda and Chizkiya], the idea that the Davidic dynasty will be renewed, along with the preeminence of the family of the N’siim, speedily in our days.