The moon that we see at night figures prominently in this week’s Parasha and in Jewish life. The very first Mitzva that the Jewish people were commanded was to sanctify the new moon, which serves as the basis for calculating holidays and the passage of the months and years. The symbolism of a moon that grows larger, then smaller and practically disappears only to reappear again is a metaphor for the rising and falling fortunes of Klal Yisrael. The fact it reemerges after its seeming disappearance is a source of great hope and strength. A Jew may go into a period of spiritual decline, but he can pick himself up and rejuvenate himself.
There is another great lesson to be learned from the moon. In the narrative about creation, the Torah tells us there were Meoros HaGedolim, (Bereishis 1:16, cf. Chulin 60B) there were two great lights – the sun and the moon. Considering the relative sizes of the sun and stars on the one hand, and the moon on the other, referring to the moon as a great light is a seeming misnomer. Since the moon is so significantly smaller than those other celestial bodies, why is it referred to as a great light?
The Ibn Ezra explains that “great” does not refer to its dimensions, but rather to the fact it sheds light on the earth. True, the moon is relatively tiny, and as HaRav Avraham HaKohein Pam zt’l points out further, that light is only a reflection of the sun’s light. However, for us here on the earth, the beneficiaries of the moon’s light – we consider it great.
Rav Pam goes on to apply this lesson of what makes something “great” to our lives as Jews. Greatness is not limited to the biggest, smartest, most talented or strongest individual. Greatness is in giving and can be found in anyone who brings a benefit to someone else. If you set a good example, strive to achieve something just beyond your grasp, learn a little harder, work a little more to treat others with more kindness, do a chesed, teach a lesson, you are reflecting light on others, and to them you are “great.”
This is an important lesson to share with children. Too many give up because “I’m not as good as the next person in learning, davening, sports, art, music, sociability, etc. – I’ll never be great in it, so why bother?” The truth is if a child sets a good example through his or her kind and respectful behavior, effort in learning, care in keeping mitzvos, which in turn helps create an atmosphere of learning and growth at home or school that will reflect Hashem’s light on others; that is greatness.
Everyone wants to be great in something and trouble comes when a child gives up hope of ever attaining that goal. Rav Pam’s lesson is we need to redefine what it means to be great, and thereby maintain the natural, youthful motivation to try and try again. If the goal of greatness is within reach, success will undoubtedly follow.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann