The weekly Torah reading of the first chapter of Genesis, Bereishit, always occurs during the week of a new moon. The coupling seems to contain a hidden message.
On the fourth creation day, God made the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-18)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יְהִ֤י מְאֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהַבְדִּ֕יל בֵּ֥ין הַיּ֖וֹם וּבֵ֣ין הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים׃
God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years;
and they serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.” And it was so.
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וְאֵ֖ת הַכּוֹכָבִֽים׃
God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.
וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לְהָאִ֖יר עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
And God set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth,
וְלִמְשֹׁל֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם וּבַלַּ֔יְלָה וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֣ין הַחֹ֑שֶׁךְ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃
to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that this was good.”
The “two great lights” refer to the Sun and the Moon that dominate Earth’s sky during the day and night. Each serves as a source of light to “shine upon the earth,” and as a way of separating “light from darkness” which had been mixed together earlier in creation. While the Sun remains a fixed source of light always dominating the daytime, the Moon’s light comes and goes over the course of a month, generating – or more accurately “reflecting” – light during the night. The Moon’s dominance ebbs and flows.
The changing nature of the Moon’s light is directly related to its position in the sky relative to the Earth and Sun. When the Earth is between the Sun and Moon, the full light of the Sun reflects back on the Earth displaying itself as a “Full Moon.” However, when the Moon is between the Sun and Earth, no light reflects off the Moon’s surface that is visible to Earth. From the perspective of Earth, the moon is completely dark, known as the “New Moon.”
The Moon itself does not spin. It has one side that always faces Earth known as the “near side” and the other side known as the “far side.” Some people call the far side the “dark side,” but this is inaccurate. As described above, the Moon’s light and dark sides change throughout the month. A more appropriate definition for the far side would be the “hidden side.”
So while God created the “greater light” as a fixed item to always dominate the daytime sky which people could see every day and from all sides throughout the year, He created a lesser light that would have a varying amount of light during the night, and a hidden side that could never be seen from Earth.
Man’s Moon for Signs and Holidays
The Sun was established for “the days and years,” permanent and marked regardless of the introduction of man at the sixth day of creation. The Earth’s vegetation and animals need the Sun as much as Man; the Sun was a gift to everything on Earth. But the Moon was different. The Moon was for לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים, for “signs and holidays.” It was specially designed for mankind.
In Exodus 12:1-2, God gave a commandment to the Jewish people:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃
This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.
Rabbis learned from the superfluous words of “for you” that it was for the leaders of the Jewish people to declare when a new month actually began. People set the beginning of the month and consequently, when all Jewish holidays would fall out, such as Passover and Sukkot. The Bible foreshadowed in Genesis 1 that the Jews would use the lunar calendar for their months and holidays. To this day, Jews around the world do not only enjoy the light of the moon, but also track and celebrate the darkening phase to mark each month and set the calendar.
Are there other messages to be learned about the Moon?
Man’s Role with the Near and Hidden
The Bible does not discuss the nature of the Moon having a single Earth-facing side and another hidden side. It strictly relates to the Moon’s qualities regarding light. God encourages man to use the changing night sky of the Moon and stars to chart holidays and perhaps navigation. The changing nature of the light sources were meant to serve as useful tools.
Yet there are items that are unseen by Man in the night, such as the far side of the Moon. Did God want these hidden items to be discovered and used as well? Were the hidden mysteries of space something for mankind to discover?
Some rabbis have opined that the answer is no. They note that King David sang in Psalms 115:16
הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם שָׁ֭מַיִם לַיהוָ֑ה וְ֝הָאָ֗רֶץ נָתַ֥ן לִבְנֵי־אָדָֽם׃
The heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth He gave over to man.
Some rabbis have condemned space travel on this basis. They note that Jews have been punished for space travel, including Judith Resnik, the first Jewish American in space who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
But many others feel differently. God is clear when things are forbidden to man.
God set clear boundaries once He set Adam in the Garden of Eden. He made two trees in the garden which were declared off-limits for Man. If God did not want Mankind to explore and discover the hidden items in his creation, He would have spelled it out.
Chapter 1 of Genesis laid out the days of creation of the world and provided a foreshadowing of Man before his creation in noting the importance of the Moon. Perhaps God’s directing Man to look up to the Moon meant much more than simply observing its light.
First Man and The Hidden
While Genesis recorded the world’s first person, the new movie First Man describes the first man on the Moon. The movie captures the excitement of discovery of a new world, seen but untouched.
There is another part of the story as it relates to astronaut Michael Collins who navigated the Columbia command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the Moon. As the pair were on the near side of the Moon for 22 hours, Collins orbited the Moon, navigating the module around the far side of the Moon. He was there for roughly 47 minutes all alone – without his fellow astronauts beside him in the module, and without the ability to communicate with mission control on Earth while on the far side. His only companion was the mysterious side of the Moon, while he was hidden from mankind. Since Adam, there was probably never a human more alone than Michael Collins for those 47 minutes.
God created the world, giving a special role for mankind to play regarding the Moon, even as He placed the first man in a protected corner of Earth. It would take thousands of years for another man to be first on that special celestial body.
Discovering God’s creations is often noted for the thrilling moments of engagement like walking on the Moon, but it can also be found in quiet moments, such as seeing God’s hidden mysteries. Hopefully the great explorations will continue.
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