January 23, 2019

Night of No Moon

Night of No Moon.

Look up in the sky tonight. You won’t see much, or any, of a moon. Astronomically, the new moon occurs when we see no moon in the sky. We only see the moon when the sun shines on a part of the moon that we can see. When the moon is right between the earth and sun, we only see the dark side of the moon. The other side gets all the sunlight. In ancient times, from what I have read, those moonless nights were terrifying, as if something had died in the heavens. Ancient peoples, we are told, made noises and blew horns, to chase away evil spirits, or perhaps to awaken the deceased moon back to life. The new moon is actually “no moon”; it is the darkest night of the month.

This Shabbat, called Shabbat Ha-Chodesh, is the fourth of the four special Sabbaths that lead up to Pesach. On Shabbat Ha-Chodesh, at the beginning of the month of Nisan, we read from Exodus 12:1-20, which describes the night of the Passover meal.  That night, the 15th of Nisan, 15 days after no moon, is always accompanied by a full moon.

This Shabbat is also the actual first day of Nisan, Rosh Chodesh.  “Rosh” is “beginning of” and “Chodesh” means month. The word “Chodesh” is clearly connected to the word “chadash” which means “new.”

I find myself fascinated by the image of the dark moon facing us, a moon we cannot see, because the other side is fully illuminated. This night of no light is Rosh Chodesh, interpreted in the Chasidic tradition as the “beginning of the new”.

The spiritual-psychological meaning jumps out – transformation takes place when we experience an inner obscurity. The firmness of the ego self is undermined. We become a bit unknown to ourselves, the world is shifting. A new self is trying to birth. There is a new clarity on the other side of the darkness that awaits us.

I think of those ancient people, making all kinds of noise because of the darkness. I think of the noise in our own heads, a noise that distracts us from a troubling inner obscurity that might portend a new light. Maybe we are falling apart. Maybe we are coming together. Maybe both.

Spiritual liberation means being liberated from forces within that prevent our becoming whole persons. The image of giving a half shekel in the census, described in Ex. 30, is intriguing. The half shekel stands for us; we are only “half” – completed by others, by God, and by a self emerging from within. That self can only emerge when forces that impede that birth can be outfoxed. They are cunning, and can rob us of our well-being. I know of so many people whom I have counseled (and from my work) that we find ourselves thinking and doing things that seem so contrary to how we see ourselves, our finer vision of ourselves. Well, those patterns are part of us. We can’t get rid of them. Those forces within have a voice. Sometimes, disturbingly, it is a voice of truth. We are disturbed because we are not living true lives. Maybe we are avoiding and repressing. Maybe there is truth within that we just can’t live, right now at least. Maybe it is voice of distraction. Maybe destruction. We can’t know unless we become conscious of them and dialogue with them.

In that inner dialogue, confusing and distressing at first, we can discern much. One thing we can discern, hopefully, is the forces and voices that clearly belong to less mature, less whole, parts of us. Voices of pettiness, catastrophizing, judgmentalism, entropy, fear, etc., that prevent a new self from arising, can be identified. We become aware that we can become purified. From an inner life perspective, we can change our tone of voice, or least the tone of one of our voices.

This Shabbat is the Shabbat of “chadash”, the beginning of newness as we approach the liberation of Passover. The inner work so far has taken us to a level of great obscurity, the night of no moon. Which is the voice of truth?  Which is the voice that must be changed? We cannot grow without going through this moonless night, on our way to the full moon of liberation.