There’s something about a full moon that deeply moves people. It’s natural to be filled with a sense of awe and wonder when you gaze at a full moon. No coincidence, then that Judaism’s two week-long festivals begin on the night of a full moon: Succot on the 15th night of the lunar month of Tishrei, and Passover on the 15th night of the lunar month of Nissan. As is often the case, the religious imagination harnesses natural human emotion for its own specific purposes. In what follows, I freely translate a Passover message from my friend and teacher Rabbi Lior Engelman that plays with traditional traits associated with the moon and the sun.
We find expression for the sun and the moon in the world of the spirit. The sun, the great light, is the intellect—which is constantly “lit” and is not subject to changing feelings and situations. The moon, the little light, is the world of emotion, receiving impressions from the outside, experiencing profound changes and constant movement.
The relationship between the sun and the moon, between emotion and intellect, is expressed in the Jewish holidays. On the first day of the lunar month of Nissan, the moon is “covered.” It is on this day that the people of Israel hear the command to prepare for Pesach, but nothing is felt at this point–only the mind understands. On the tenth day of Nissan, the people are instructed to take the paschal lamb; they start to feel, to prepare. On the fourteenth of the month, we feel what is about to happen, and so we eat hastily. Stick in hand, we are ready for the Exodus; everything is felt, alive, and well. The Exodus will take place on the night of the fifteenth, in the middle of the night, and the moon will look fully upon the face of the sun. Feeling is in full agreement with intellect; we both feel and know that the time of redemption is at hand.
We read in the Haggadah: “Even if all of us are wise, even if we are all intelligent, if we all know the entire Torah, it is incumbent upon us to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and the more expansive one is, the more admirable.” The night of the Seder takes place on the fifteenth of Nissan, the night of a full moon in the sky, when the moon aligns itself fully with the sun. On this night, even if we are all wise, even if we are all at the level of the constant and luminous sun, this is not enough. We need more than intellect, wisdom, and understanding. We also want to discover the moon in its fullness. We want our emotions to share in the depth of the experience. We are not content with knowing about the Exodus from Egypt; we want to feel as if we ourselves have left. We are required to tell the story.
A story is not a collection of data; a good story stirs both the listener and the narrator. Even if we know the entire Torah, the time has come to tell, to experience and feel the magnitude of the hour. It was not for nothing that we were commanded on this night: “You shall tell your child” (Exodus 13.8). The small child is like the moon, full of childlike emotion, standing in a position of acceptance in front of his parents, like the moon in the face of the sun. In order to reach his heart, the parents, moved and excited, tell over the story; they feel the depth of the experience with the help of their curious child. A Seder night of intellect and emotion, sun and moon.
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from miami, where he was an assistant professor of religous studies. Teddy and his wife, sarah jane ross, have five children.