The Moon

The Moon

The Moon (Ha’yrah)

הירח

Gazing skyward at night and spotting the moon, I feel greeted by a friend who shows up in many different outfits and moods. Sometimes she appears as a thin crescent in the dark night, sometimes a fully glowing round beacon with a halo. Sometimes she floats above the horizon, a giant orange orb lit by the setting sun. Other nights she peeks demurely from behind a veil of shifting clouds. Most wonderfully, sometimes I gaze up in the morning or at dusk and find her winking at me then, too.

The Moon is important to life on earth, including regulation of tides, influence on nocturnal animal behavior, and even stabilization of the earth’s rotation on its axis. The Moon is also an important symbol in Jewish tradition. We base our calendar and holidays primarily on the moon and its cycles. In Rabbinic tradition, the Moon and its cycle of restoration became a symbol of the Jewish people. In Jewish mysticism. the Moon is associated with the Shechinah, the feminine Divine Presence, and with the role of women in general. Celebrating the new moon (Rosh Hodesh) and blessing the waxing moon (Kiddush Levanah) are ancient traditions that have become important expressions of contemporary Jewish spirituality.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Moonrise in Oregon

Enjoy a beautiful full moon in nature anytime with this serene and meditative video that starts with verses from Genesis. The video continues with calming views of the Oregon lake and mountains.   Explore the Moon's relationship to time and renewal, or return to...

The Moon, Jewish Time, and Renewal

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. Exodus 12:1  :החדש הזה. הֶרְאָהוּ לְבָנָה בְּחִדּוּשָׁהּ וְאָמַר לוֹ...

Rosh Hodesh: Celebration of the New Moon

Rosh Hodesh, also spelled Rosh Chodesh ("Ch" as in "Bach"), is the celebration of the new Hebrew month, an ancient festival finding renewal among contemporary Jews. Rosh Hodesh means the "head" or first day of the lunar month (just as "Rosh Hashanah" means the "head...

Rosh Hodesh Moon, song by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Its a moon song Bubbling up and over me Darkness, sets my spirit free. Rosh Hodesh, enchanted time to hallow the month Rosh Hodesh (also spelled Chodesh) the new moon, is traditionally a special day of rest and celebration for women. Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael wrote...

Midrash: How the Moon Shrank

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 rule by day and the lesser light to...

The Myth of Moon, Reinvented Over the Ages

The midrash about the Moon's diminishment in the previous post did not remain static over the centuries, but was reinvented to reveal new meanings. Explore the changing face of this ancient legend in depth, through this fascinating article by Melila Hellner-Eshed, the...

Kiddush Levana: A Blessing for the Moon

There is a Jewish tradition to bless the renewal of the moon once each month from three days after the new moon appears and before it reaches fullness. The full text of this outdoor ceremony, translated by Rabbi David Seidenberg, can be found here. Blessing the moon...

Solar Eclipse: A Cosmic Experience

Many people find a total solar eclipse to be an incredibly spiritual experience in nature that opens them to the vastness of the cosmos. It has a wonderful echo of the ancient legend of the Moon, because during the full solar eclipse the moon passes between earth and...

A Guide’s Perspective: Greeting the Moon

To me, greeting the moon is always a special thrill, like running into a wise and beautiful friend who communicates silently. On a physical plane, the moon is necessary to life as we know it, one of the many miraculous factors that makes our planet a hospitable home...

The Hebrew Months

Our Hebrew months got their current names in Babylonia over 2500 years ago and are associated with the signs of the Zodaic. Yes, those odd dates listed on your horoscope should be switched out for the Hebrew months, and the signs have resonances in some of the Jewish...

Tikkun Olam: Half the Sky

In Jewish tradition, the Moon has been associated with women and the feminine. In today's world, one of the most central social movements for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) is that of achieving full equality and rights for the world's women and girls. Some see the...

Sharing Circle: The Moon

  What is your personal connection to the Moon? Does the Moon ever symbolize something for you? Does tracking its cycles take you back to a more organic relationship to time? Have you watched a solar or lunar eclipse? Stayed up in the wee hours to watch the...

Darkness

Darkness

Darkness (Hoshech)

חושך

We tend to equate light with good and darkness with bad. But darkness is the inseparable partner of light; indeed, we cannot see one without the other. Our modern world is lit up 24 hours a day; even when we turn off the lights at bedtime, our homes glow with blinking lights from our various electronic devices. We need dark nights as much as sunny days, to maintain our circadian rhythms, allow us rest and promote our health. 

On a spiritual level, we may fear darkness because it symbolizes times of struggle or even despair. Yet we know from life experience that it is often those dark times of life that forge our greatest growth.

Conversely, darkness may be a gift, inviting us to restfulness, inwardness, intimacy. Natural beauty, art, and aesthetics require a balance of light and shadow. Modern theologians of many faiths are recognizing that darkness is just as necessary to our growth as light.

God “forms light and creates darkness” (Isaiah 45:7, quoted in the traditional Jewish morning prayers). Indeed, according to the Torah’s account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, darkness exists before light is created. There is evening before there is morning, and so all Jewish holy days begin with sunset and not with sunrise.

So head out into the night and explore this Gateway of Darkness to explore the symbolism of darkness and night in Jewish Tradition and in your own life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Ambiance: Forest at Night

Featured photo: "Sunset" by Laurence Louis, via Flickr   Learn about "Dark Nights of the Soul" in the Torah, or teturn to the Gateway of Darkness

Dark Nights of the Soul

Many pivotal biblical encounters with the Divine take place during the darkness of night, when dreams, blessings and visions are imparted. and one of the most important is when our forefather Jacob wrestles with a mysterious stranger. Jacob (Ya'akov) was left alone....

You Want it Darker, by Leonard Cohen

Enter the darkness of the human experience in the powerful music of Leonard Cohen, of blessed memory, from his last album, interspersed with the Hebrew word, "Hineni," here I am, and words from the Kaddish, "Magnified and Sanctified." Continue to learn about facing...

Enter the Darkness to Greet the Dawn

Can we face the darkness of our own depths? Individuals and societies who can't face their own shadow side will often project it on others. A fairly literal translation of Genesis 1:2 would be: The earth was unformed and void -- and darkness on the face of the...

Song: Evening the Evenings

"Evening the Evenings" by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael Based on the traditional Evening Prayer   Featured Image: Sunset in Chobe National Park, Botswana, Elisheva Danan Explore the Darkness Before Creation with Rabbi Fern Feldman, or return to the Gateway of...

The Darkness Before Creation

When I explore my own nature, or experience the sacred, most often I feel a deepening into darkness.  Although dominating theologies create binaries, in which light is good and darkness is evil, when we recognize the multivalent nature of all that is, we see wave upon...

Darkness: A View from Kabbalah

by Rabbi Fern Feldman The Zohar imagines the process of creation as a flowing forth from a deep spring or well. In this image, the source is in the depths, and the flow goes up, (rather than the more common western image of source as up, with the flow going down.)...

The Darkness Before Creation: A Meditation

In this guided meditation, Rabbi Fern Feldman takes you on a short journey back through the creation story to be held in the dark waters, and hear what wisdom you may find there. Featured Image: Waipi'o Valley, big island (Hawaii), Elisheva Danan   Learn about...

Redemption in Darkness

by Rabbi David Seidenberg Hanukkah (Chanukah) is about darkness as much as light. Rabbi David Seidenberg teaches about the necessary interaction of the two in a mystical celebration of the holiday: The menorah teaches us about the unity of the light and the dark....

The Bedtime Shema

Bedtime Shema songs by Jordan Franzel and Lisa Tzur. Adapted from the Sh'ma for Bedtime in the Siddur, the Jewish Prayer Book, this composition was written in Jerusalem for the URJ Eisner Camp of Great Barrington, MA. It was published in the Shireinu series, the...

Dreams

Nightime and sleep bring us to the world of dreams.  If you’re a dreamer (we all are), read on: this post is about you. by Rabbi David Evan Markus “I have a dream.” With these words, dreamer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. propelled the American nation along the arc that...

Tikkun Olam: The Dark Sky Movement

For three billion years, life on Earth existed in a rhythm of light and dark that was created solely by the illumination of the Sun, Moon and stars. Now, artificial lights overpower the darkness and our cities glow at night, disrupting the natural day-night pattern...

Losing the Dark

“Losing the Dark” is a joint production of the International Dark-Sky Association and Loch Ness Productions. It is available for free use in a variety of formats and languages. Listen to a Nighttime Podcast, or return to the Gateway of Darkness

Nighttime Podcasts

Nighttime can be a good time to turn off screens and snuggle in bed with a good book...or a great podcast. Nocturne is a very creative and thought-provoking podcast about life at night. I don't usually listen to it at night, because it's too interesting! Produced by...

Sharing Circle: Darkness

Enter the Sharing Circle to share your thoughts about Darkness and Night in our tradition and in your own life. Are you a night owl? Do you keep a lot of lights on to avoid the dark, or seek it out? What's your experience with dark skies? Have you ever seen the Milky...

Light

Light

Light (Ohr)

אור

Need a moment of retreat, a micro-Shabbat? Stop and look at some natural light (or at night, go out and look at the night sky).  I have always been transfixed by light. Gazing at the dappled sunlight and shadow in a creek near my house, watching the sunlight dance and sparkle on a pool of water, or contemplating the changing hues of a sunset or sunrise, all of these rays of light seem to connect immediately to my soul.  We experience light both physically and spiritually. On a physical level, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, growth, and for life on earth to exist. Light sets our body clocks and regulates our circadian rhythms. On a symbolic level, light has a universal meaning of goodness, awakening, and hope, associated with warmth and healing.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, describes light as a pervasive symbol in Jewish theology and tradition, where it is “the primary link between divine and human worlds.” Since God’s first act of creation is to create light, light is associated with creative power. In mystical thought, divinity is pictured as a source of endless light: Ohr Ein Sof. Light is a symbol of Torah, “For a commandment is a lamp, and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23). Light also has a moral association; the people of Israel are called upon to be an ethical example, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 24:6).

 

Meander down the path in this Gateway of Light to explore the symbol of light in Jewish tradition and in your life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Or Zarua: Let the Light In

Light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart.  --Psalm 97:11 Original song by Shir Yaakov “Light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. In that way it reminds us of God."...

The Creation of Light in the Torah

The book of Genesis shows the creation of light in two phases, first Light itself, then luminaries. . . Genesis 1:1-5 God creates Light: As God began creating the heavens and the earth—and the earth was unformed and void, with darkness on the face of the deep, and a...

Where to find the hidden light

The Hidden Light: It seems an oxymoron. Light shines and reveals what is hidden. How can a light be hidden, and where might we find it again? According to the Torah, light was created on Day One of Creation, but the sun and other heavenly luminaries were not created...

The Miracle of Light: Hidden in Plain Sight

I heard the following Midrash repeatedly from my teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak asked Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman, saying: "Since I hear that you are a master of Aggadah [sacred lore], tell me how light was created." Rabbi Samuel bar...

Light Waves, Visible and Invisible

Learn about Light in Jewish Mysticism, or return to the Gateway of Light.

Light in Jewish Mysticism

There are many Jewish mystical concepts and doctrines that center on the metaphor of light. Classic Kabbalistic works often have names that focus on light, such as Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Brightness) or the Zohar (the Brilliance). Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite,...

Sacred Ritual: Lighting Shabbat Candles

Shabbat, the Sabbath, and Jewish holidays all begin with the kindling of lights in the home. By lighting candles, we emulate God, whose first act of creation was making light, and we reveal the hidden light by welcoming in Shabbat, a day-long taste of the Garden of...

Candle-Lighting and Personal Prayer

After completing the candle blessing is a wonderful time to gaze into the warm and peaceful lights of Shabbat, and to offer a personal prayer for loved ones or wherever your concerns are directed. This was the realm of traditional women’s prayers...

Noah’s Skylight: When Things are Dark, Allow In a Little Light

I love watching the interplay of light filtered through green leaves onto water, the sparkling diamonds of light on the gurgling stream. Light can only be appreciated as it balances and plays with darkness, with shadow.Our lives, too, have periods of light and dark....

The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year

Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our...

The Menorah: Organic Symbol of Light

The menorah, the divine lamp, is a primary symbol for the Jewish people, far more ancient than the Magen David, the Star (Shield) of David. The seven branched menorah (lampstand) of the ancient Holy Temple is widely recognized as an organic, botanical image, a variety...

Tikkun Olam: The Green Menorah

Imagine a living, green menorah as a symbol of our covenant to be guardians of God's earth. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center conceived of the Green Menorah covenant, pointing out that both the original design of the menorah and the prophet Zachariah's vision...

Light in Jerusalem

Something about the atmosphere in Jerusalem makes me feel like my feet aren’t quite touching the ground, even when my sandals are covered with dust. If people are not looking I find it hard to resist the desire to take off with a few dancing steps. Maybe it’s the...

Ode Yeshama: A Song of Jerusalem

A song from Jeremiah 33:10-11, music by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, performed by Rabbi David Zaslow and Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Tom Freeman on drums. This joyful song is often performed at weddings, or sung on Shabbat, a day that's like a wedding celebration of life. "There...

Cosmic Light

    Read more from NASA.gov on the science of understanding light at the far reaches of the universe. And about Light in Nature from the website of the International Year of Light (2015).     Time to light a candle rather than curse the...

Light a Candle; Don’t Curse the Darkness

It is all too easy to see so many situations in the world—on the local or global scale—that seem dark and bleak. Consider the old proverb, “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Find one step that you can take for light,for healing, and do it...

Sharing Circle: Light

Hidden & Revealed Revealed Light: Has the light of a certain landscape revealed something in your soul? What experiences of light do you treasure? Hidden Light: Where have you found a "hidden" light? In learning, spiritual practice, deeds? Or perhaps guiding your...

Rainbows

Rainbows

Rainbows (Keshet)

קשת

Seeing a rainbow creates a sense of enchantment and rainbow colors in the heavens have long stirred the human imagination. A rainbow is not a physical object, but an “optical and meteorological phenomena” that shows us the spectrum of visible light, often dramatically set in the clouds or against a waterfall. The most beautiful natural settings are often the most fertile grounds for rainbows, but their magic can surprise us anywhere, causing us to pause and connect with our surroundings.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

The First Rainbow in the Torah

At the end of the story of the Great Flood (which begins in Genesis 6:9), God declares that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant between God and the entire earth, that God will never again destroy the earth with a cataclysmic flood. God said, "This is the sign of the...

Rainbows in Jewish Mysticism

The rainbow is also a mystical symbol. The prophet Ezekiel, in exile in Babylonia (6th Century BCE), had an ecstatic vision of God and compared the brightness of this vision to the appearance of a rainbow. Ezekiel's vision lead to the association of the rainbow with...

A Blessing for Rainbows

The Sages of the Talmud composed many berachot (blessings) to be recited for nature's wonders and pleasures, including one for seeing a rainbow (a full arc in the sky): Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, zokher ha-brit, ve-ne-eman be-vrito ve-kayem at...

Ot: A Sign

by Nessa Rapoport A Friday afternoon in midsummer, the huge sky smudged by mist yet oddly bright. I was on holiday, alone in a cafe overlooking the harbor. My excellent husband had taken the children to swim, lending me that rare gift in a working mother’s life, a...

A Rainbow of Hope

I was off from my own congregation the week after the Holidays and prayed at a lovely Reform temple in the Berkshires. Despite enjoying my break, I felt burdened by a loss of hope around the violent situation in Israel. As I prayed the Amidah, the standing prayer, my...

Rainbow Tallit

Wrapping oneself in a tallit (prayer shawl) for prayer and meditation is a beautiful way to create a sacred space, to feel the embrace of the divine. Not too long ago, all tallitot (Jewish prayer shawls) were white with black, or maybe blue stripes. Rabbi Zalman...

Sunrise Rainbow in Kailua

I awoke in Kailua, the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, to a chorus of tropical birds singing loudly and melodiously, and distant waves in the background. The scent of plumeria and the local varieties of jasmine and gardenia continually perfumed the air. I made my way to the...

Tikkun Olam: A Rainbow of a Community

The rainbow, with it's varied and beautiful refracted hues has become the symbol of diversity, including in our Jewish communities: diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and physical or intellectual ability, among other factors. The...

Tikkun Olam: Rainbow Covenant

The Rainbow Covenant & the Planet Although we often first learn the story of Noah as children, as if it is just a colorful tale of a floating zoo, it is actually a terrifying story of destruction, chaos, and survival. After Noah, his family, and the animals...

Double Magic

As if rainbows weren't beautiful enough by themselves, an amazing moment of wonder...   See an amazing waterfall rainbow at Yosemite, or return to the Gateway of Rainbows.

Amazing Rainbow at Yosemite

A hike paid off for Rabbi Naomi Levy, with this awesome view of a rainbow amid a waterfall at Yosemite National Park Whilte the rainbow blessing is traditionally for rainbows in the sky, sights like this may evoke a berachah (blessing) for seeing the wonders of...

Sharing Circle: Rainbows

What does the Rainbow symbol mean in your life? Is there a time that a rainbow lifted your spirits to a moment of enchantment or transcendence? Here's my latest: The day our first granddaughter came home from the hospital, a rainbow appeared in the sky over her...