The Torah of Time: Blessing the New Moon

Time. We love it and we hate it, we complain we don’t have enough of it, we wonder where it’s all gone, we want more of it yet we wish it didn’t exist, we complain about its strict definitions yet fill with anxiety when we don’t have its structure in our lives.

Our relationship with time has been fraught since the beginning itself, but it’s when Time became defined that we can pinpoint as a key moment for humanity – and certainly for the Jewish tradition, which counts the months by a lunar calendar, as elucidated in the Torah portion of the week.

“This month shall be for you the head of the Months,” God instructs Moses, and so the Jewish people are given their first ever commandment: That of blessing the new month when the new moon arises.

The symbolism of the moon in Jewish tradition is pivotal. It represents the waxing and waning of a people who have risen to power at times yet never been rulers of the world, who have been decimated yet never fully been destroyed either.

Think about your own relationship with time. When’s the last moment you complained about how you’re running out of time to do things in your day? Or when you didn’t have a watch or a phone and complained that you had no idea what time it is and therefore couldn’t figure out what was happening next? Or perhaps you sank into the moment, freely and joyfully, and acknowledged that the best part of a day not defined by time is the ability to live completely in the moment, without worrying about the next thing, the next instant.

The Jewish emphasis on Time as the first ever mitzvah fascinates me, for as a people we are so defined by time – there are thousands of rituals that rely on the sun setting on Friday; the new moon rising; the full moon bringing harvest and spring festivals; the stars coming out in the sky bringing a new day; and beyond.

But we are also beyond time and space, with the ability to carve out our own niche in a world where time appears linear but is actually cyclical, as we live and relive the moments lived before by our ancestors and harness the energy generated by them through key historic periods.

The exodus from Egypt is one such pivotal moment, a moment referred to countless times in Biblical and Judeo-Christian liturgy precisely because it’s a referential point that occurs in time over and over again – each time we break a habit, each time we leave our proverbial self-imposed boundaries to go beyond, to reach past our inclination and aim for something higher and greater, we leave exile and become someone new, someone using the lessons of time as it recurs to leverage a place beyond time and space.

In the book of Judges, Joshua – Moses’ successor – is fighting a losing battle and utters the infamous words, “Sun in Gibeon, stop – and the moon in the Valley of Ayalon.” The sun and moon stop in their paths, the day extends, and the battle continues until the war is won.

It’s fascinating to imagine time as being at once restrictive but also liberating; a place where we can harness the lessons and symbolism of a waxing and waning moon; a rising and setting sun; the structures of a new year and a new month and a new day; while also recognizing that we as people go so far beyond it. That we can, indeed, stop the sun and stop the moon and continue going about our work without the relentless pressures of time that distract us from our essential way of being.

The blessing of the New Moon was the first formal commandment given to the in-utero Jewish nation as they were being “birthed” through the Exodus process from the embryonic Hebrew tribe into the fully-gestated Jewish people. The Rabbinic scholars debate why the Torah didn’t begin with this key component of national identity, instead drawing the reader through a narrative of thousands of years of Creation; Destruction and Geneology before bringing us to this point, when the ragtag tribe of Hebrews become a fully realized people, leaving Egypt for days of festival worship through trials and tribulations of slavery and oppression.

And there we have it – our dual relationship with time. The need to define our relationship with the Divine through a 3-day festival (the original request from Moses to Pharoah was to leave for just a few days to sacrifice to God); through the blessing of a New Moon each month drawing down divine energy for a peaceful and successful month; through moments of sunrise and sunset and everything in between to allow our human minds to craft the structures and symbols we need to go about our physical realities with an anchor of time, in its apparently linear format.

Yet we also go beyond it and above it, from the moment of Creation to the first Blessing of the New Moon; from Joshua’s uttered prayer to those countless moments in our days when we forget to look at our watch; when we put our phone on airplane mode; when we allow ourselves to go so deep into time that we transcend beyond it – that we live fully and completely in the present and engage ourselves in our deeds and activities.

“Time flies when you’re having fun.” Sure, we need time, and we bless the New Moon as a nation to remind us that Time is precious, Time shouldn’t be wasted, Time must be utilized in every moment and appreciated for the gift we are given. But we are Divine beings, and we go beyond time – we can release our boundaries, climb outside of the structures, exit from the self-imposed exiles of habits and humanity, and reach deep within ourselves for that Divine moment of living beyond time, with a sun that stops and a moon that never sets.

Shabbat Shalom.