In Parshas Bireishis (1:16) the Torah reads:
And G-d made the two large luminaries -- the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night -- and the stars.
The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuk. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as "the two large luminary", but then it calls the sun "the large luminary" and the moon is called the small one.
The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, "Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?" How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? G-d replies, "Go and make yourself smaller."
The moon is hurt. "Master of the Universe, because I presented You with a true complaint, I should reduce myself?" Hashem offers consolation, and permits that unlike the sun, "Go and rule over the day and the night."
The moons sees this as no consolation. If the sun is shining all day, it continues, "What good is a candle at noon?" It will out-shine me, how do I gain by shining then? Hashem offers an alternate consolation. "It is destined for Israel to use you to count days and years." The Jewish people use a lunar calendar.
This too the moon finds insufficient. "Without the sun they can not count seasons either." Rashi (ad. loc.) explains that the leap years are based upon the seasons. The second Adar is added to insure that Pesach is always in the spring. Since the Jewish year must average one solar year, the Jewish calendar is not purely lunar, and it doesn't offer the moon the compensation it seeks. G-d provides a third consolation. Righteous men will be called by your name, for example (Amos 7) "Yaacov hakatan [the small]", "Shmuel hakatan" [a tanna], (Shmuel 1 17) "David hakatan".
The moon thought about it, but was still unsatisfied. Hashem commands, bring a kaparah, a korban of forgiveness, in My Name, for I have wronged the moon.
Reish Lakish points out that this korban is indicated in the Torah in this week's parshah. The pasuk says, "And one sa'ir, he-goat, for a chatos Lashem, anexpiation-offering unto G-d" (Bamidbar 38:15). No other holidays' chatos offering include this last word, that the korban is for G-d. Rosh Chodesh, when the moon isn't visible, the korban chatos is to "atone" for G-d "wronging" the moon.
The Talmud and medrash are not a compendium of odd stories. These stories are a way to balance the needs of recording aggadic [non-halachic] material, and the injunction against recording the Oral Torah. These ideas were conveyed as the sub-text of these stories, so that they are preserved, yet not written out. For halachah, where legal decisions need precise language, this mode is not an option, although still as terse form as possible is used. The Maharshah is a rishon well known for providing an explanation for many of the aggadic stories, and he provides one here as well.
The Maharshah explains that the moon symbolizes the Jewish people who appear small in this world. The medrash is a discussion about the need for Israel to be oppressed in this world, so that they may shine brighter in the next.
He identifies the sa'ir, the he-goat of the Rosh Chodesh chatos offering, with Rome the children of Yaacov's brother Esav. The connection between the goat and Rome is that both the word "sa'ir" and Rome's anscestor's name "Esav", indicates hairiness.
Surely of all of the nations of the world, history is dominated by Rome and the western civilization it spawned. And, like the moon, Israel's fortunes rise, fall and rise again under its shadow.
Aside from the difference in ascendancy, between Israel and non-Jews, there is a more obvious difference between this world and the next. Only in this world is there a physical existence.
We saw in our study of Parshas Chukas, that red represents the physical man. Similarly, hair is a symbol of vanity. Tum'ah, the adulteration of the mind by physical urges, is iconified by the red heifer.
Hair is also a symbol of physicality. It serves no purpose but esthetic. This is why a married woman covers her hair, and a nazir, who takes a vow of asceticism, lets it grow wild.
Esav is called by two names. As we noted already, "Esav" is a reference to his hairiness at birth. His other name "Edom" -- which is also the Hebrew name for Rome -- means red. The Torah holds up Esav before us as the archetype of man controlled by physical urges, and names him by two symbols of those urges.
We are introduced to Esav, when, as a young man, he feels enslaved to a need for some red lentil soup. (Bireishis 25:30-34) Even Rome's religion, was a pantheon of gods representing the forces around him, of love and war, chaos and fate, etc... show Edom's view of being a physical creature.
Esav's brother, Yaacov-Israel, will shine in the next world. Why then are we placed in this world, in an inferior position? So that we can plant a seed, an idea, that man need not be a victim of fate, a passive subject of the physical forces. Taharah is possible, the mind can use the physical world to achieve *its* end. (We will in some future week, b"h, discuss the third, spiritual part of man, which is also passive, but is there to offer a meaningful goal for man to strive for.)
This is the distinction described by their father, Yitzchak. "Haqol qol Yaacov, the voice is the voice of Yaacov; vihayadayim yidei Esav, but the hands are the hands of Esav" (ibid. 27:22. This is actually taken out of context, Yitzchak was describing his perplexity trying to identify Yaacov who was disguised to feel like his brother. There is ample precedent to indicate that this second meaning is also intended by the pasuk.)
The sun-moon relationship between Israel and the West is described again by Yitzchak, when he blesses Esav. (27:39, 40)
So Yitzchak his father answered, and said to him, "Behold, the fat of the land is your dwelling, and the dew from the sky above. By your sword shall you live, but your brother you must serve. However, when you feel wronged, you will cast off his yoke."
Again, we see Esav described as a creature of the earth, who lives by physical might. He is subservient to Yaacov, but only up to a point. Esav has the power to remove the yoke, and take his turn at leading.
This can help us understand the meaning of the gemara, and the words of the Maharshah. Not only is the Maharshah talking on the political level, but also inside each man. Edom only has ascendancy now because what it represents, that might makes right, that man is merely a physical animal (a "Material Girl"?) has ascendancy within the mind of the common man.
The moon's complaint about two rulers sharing the same crown, is an observation about human nature. Man is incapable of having two primary goals. Each person most choose between tum'ah and becoming a slave to his body, or taharah and purposeful existence.
G-d diminishes the moon. This seems like a mistake. Is the proper response to this problem to give the Israel principle the lower hand, to place man in a universe where the physical seems to reign supreme? To which G-d replies that even in the midst of the physical world, the higher man is what truly reigns - it shines both in the day, and in the night.
But, the moon continues, the higher man's say in this world is like "a candle at noontime." It is so hard to perceive that voice within ourselves. Externally, the political arena is dominated by the mislead, who oppress us. To which G-d replies it is only through the modesty of a Yaacov, David, or Shmuel, that true greatness comes. Only then, by not pursuing physical power, do you here the real strength in being more than animal. It is only in the crucible of oppression can Israel become great.
When Hashem asks us in this week's parshah to sacrifice a korban chatos for Him, it is not an admission of a mistake, for G-d does not make mistakes. G-d put us in the physical world, where we need to work toward hearing that voice for a purpose. The monthly chatos is for Him, because he put us in the world, but it is an atonement for those times when we refuse to put in that effort, when we refuse to listen to the "the voice of Yaacov".© 1995 The AishDas Society