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Shabbat Parashat Matot Masei| 5770

Hemdat HaDaf Hayomi: The Diminution of the Moon (9a)

Rav Ofer Livnat

Tamuz 22-28, Shevuot 7-13


This week in the Daf Hayomi the Gemara deals with the Chatat sacrifices (sacrifices brought as atonement for sins) that are offered on holidays as part of the Mussaf sacrifices. In this context, the Gemara quotes a very puzzling Midrash.  The intent of the Midrash is so unclear that even Rishonim who usually addressed only Halachic issues addressed this Midrash .

The Gemara notes the special expression that appears in the Torah regarding the Chatat of Rosh Chodesh, but does not appear regarding other holidays. Regarding the Chatat of Rosh Chodesh, the Torah (Bamidbar 28, 15) states "LeChatat LaHashem"- a Chatat for Hashem. For the other holidays it just says "LeChatat." To explain this, the Gemara (9a) quotes the following Midrash: "Reish Lakish said: Why is the Chatat of Rosh Chodesh different in that regarding it, it says "LaHashem?"  Hashem said: may this Chatat be an atonement for Me for diminishing the moon."  Therefore, the Torah states that the Chatat of Rosh Chodesh is "for Hashem," as it comes to, so to speak, atone for Hashem.

The Gemara in Chulin (60b) states that, at first, Hashem created the sun and the moon with equal light. However, the moon approached Hashem and said "can two kings wear the same crown?" In response, Hashem made the moon smaller. The moon was very upset at this, and Hashem tried to appease it in different ways but was unsuccessful. At last, Hashem requested that Am Yisrael bring a sacrifice to atone for making the moon smaller.

At first glance, this Midrash seems very puzzling. How is it possible to say that Hashem needs atonement for anything? The Rif (daf 1) explains that the Chatat comes to atone for Am Yisrael. However, the reason that Hashem instituted that it be brought on Rosh Chodesh is to honor the moon and appease it. The Tosfot Rosh (d"h Se'ir) explains that the Torah is teaching us proper behavior, that if a person was forced to punish another person, even though it was justified, he should appease him afterwards.

The Meshech Chochma (Bamidbar 28, 15) suggests an original explanation to this Midrash. One type of idolatry that was once common in the world was the worshipping of the sun. The Meshech Chochma explains that what led to this mistaken belief is the fact that the sun is the strongest light. If the moon had remained equal to the sun, people would not have seen the sun as something special and would not have worshipped it. By making the moon smaller, Hashem created the possibility for humans to mistake the sun for a God. Therefore, Hashem turned to Am Yisrael and commanded that they correct this error and teach mankind that only Hashem should be worshipped.    



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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.


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