Sanctifying the New Moon

Mar 29th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, What is the Reason?
Since we are approaching Rosh Chodesh Nissan, I would like to ask about two strange customs in Kiddush Levana – The Sanctification of the New Moon: 1) Why do we recite “May fear and trembling befall them, at the greatness of Your arm may they be still as stone” (Exodus 15:16) forward and backward? 2) Why do we say “Shalom Aleichem” to three people during this ceremony? By the way, I have often heard you say “Shalom Alecha” rather than “Aleichem”. Why do you prefer “Alecha” and which do you say during Kiddush Levana? G.N.

I actually refer to the ceremony as Birchat HaLevana, which is the more ancient formulation. (See Rabbi Yosef Kapach: Moreh Nevuchim 2:5 fn. 15)

I will use this week’s column to refer to the classical answers to your first question. I hope to continue next week:

Rabbi Alexander Ziskind of Horodna (Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah, p. 192) asserts that the recitation of this verse, backwards and forwards, accomplishes, according to the Kabbalah, great and wondrous things in the upper worlds, and to drive away shells. I have no idea what he means.

In a poetic explanation, the Zohar HaLevana, by R. David Weissman, explains that a righteous person is protected by God “on all sides”, indicated by the verse being read in both directions. The evil, live with the converse, they will fear the vengeance of God from all sides.

Rabbi Yitzchak Lipiatz, in his Sefer Matamim HaChodesh, explains that this verse refers to the wicked and the righteous; concerning the wicked, which turn from right to left, the verse reads, “may fear and dread…” In the future God will remove the wicked from the world, just like the evil inclination, which is likened to a stone, will also be removed from the world. Reading backwards, the verse speak of the righteous, who turn from left to right, “Like a stone they will be silenced, your arm, in its greatness,” which means that at the time when God’s strength becomes manifest the righteous will be comparable to a stone, meaning the Divine Presence, which is also likened to a stone, as the Talmud states that the righteous are referred to in the name of God.