“The New Moons have You given to Your people, a season for atonement for all their generations” (Musaf Shemoneh Esrei which is said on the New Moon).
According to our tradition, the new month begins with the renewal of the moon. The appearance of the new moon reminds us of our own ability to renew ourselves through “teshuvah” – the spiritual return which brings us atonement and new life. Through the appearance of the new moon, explains Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Loving One is sending us the following message:
“Just as the moon renews itself by the laws of nature, so you, too, should renew yourselves, but of your own free will. Each time the new moon appears, let it remind you to effect your own free-willed rejuvenation. And as I renew you, and you renew yourselves, you shall pass like the moon across the night sky of the nations and, wherever you go, proclaim the message of renewal.” (Commentary to Exodus 12:1-2)
The process of renewal which brings atonement and new life is available to all, for the Loving One is the Forgiving One. This teaching is expressed in the following ancient prayer for forgiveness:
“Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Lovingkindness and Truth; Preserver of Lovingkindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses” (Exodus 34:6,7).
The message that the Loving One is the Forgiving One is a major theme within our Sacred Scriptures, and it is expressed in the following prayer of King David:
“For You, O Master of All, are good and forgiving, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalm 86:5)
The verse stresses, “to all who call upon You.” In this spirit, King David also proclaimed:
“Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely. (Psalm 145:18)
“To all who call upon Him” – regardless of nationality (commentary of Radak)
Beginning with Abraham and Sarah, our forefathers and foremothers taught us to call upon Hashem directly. At a later stage of history, there arose the Christian religion which claimed that human beings could not directly relate to God. Christianity also claimed that all human beings were eternally damned with no hope of forgiveness, due to the original sin in the Garden of Eden. The leaders of this religion therefore deified a human being, and they taught that he was the intermediary by which people could connect with God; moreover, they taught that without this intermediary, there was no hope of forgiveness for humankind. The claim of this religion was a contradiction to all the biblical teachings and stories which indicate that human beings can connect to God and achieve forgiveness without an intermediary. In fact, a book within our Sacred Scriptures – the Book of Jonah – tells the story of how the Assyrian people who lived in Nineveh attained forgiveness through praying directly to God and changing their ways.
In the future age of enlightenment, all human beings will engage in the process of spiritual return, as King David proclaimed: “All the ends of the earth will remember and return to Hashem” (Psalm 22:28). In his commentary on the words “will remember,” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“Defection from God was never an inborn trait with individuals or with humankind as a whole. The unspoiled hearts of children are close to God, and the same was true of humankind in its pristine state. Alienation from Him came much later. Therefore, through the stimulus emanating from Israel, they will all ‘remember’; their original consciousness of God will come alive again, and they will ‘return’ to Him.” (The Psalms - Translation and Commentary by Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)
In this spirit, the Book of Isaiah records the following Divine promise regarding the future return of all humankind:
“It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Shabbos, all humankind will come to bow before Me, says Hashem.” (Isaiah 66:23)
May we be blessed with a good month and a good Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen