Rashi: The midrashic explanation is that HKBH said, “Bring an atonement for
Me for having reduced the moon.
Maharal: The notion of Hashem requiring atonement, and that such atonement
would be achieved through a korban, has spawned animated discussion.
Explanations have been offered – some poor, some adequate but not
The fuller citation2 has the moon complaining to Hashem that two
kings cannot share a single crown. Hashem responds by telling the moon that
if this is the case, she ought to reduce herself and solve the problem. The
apparent injustice requires expiation through a korban; that is the function
of the Musaf chatas of our pasuk.
The two luminaries were created with a single command – “Let there be
luminaries!” 3 Creating radically different things at the same
time with a single command can make perfect sense. Each created thing has
its own role, its own specialness that another does not possess. This makes
each thing the “king” of its own bailiwick. By first grouping the luminaries
together, Hashem implies that each of them was equally important, but only a
part of the fullness of the concept of heavenly illumination. They would
have to share the postion, each being a co-regent. The moon complained
that this would simply not work. The very nature of kingship is to unite
the realm. Only a single king can take all his subjects and turn them into a
single nation. In the imperfect world of imperfect people, a shared reign
is not practical.
Hashem responds by telling the moon that it was correct, and would have to
make way for the sun to become the sole king. Its light would remain
constant, while that of the moon would wax and wane.
The moon and G-d go a few more rounds, until finally getting to the
conclusion cited by Rashi. After all the explanations of why it was not
unjust for the moon to have to reduce itself, the moon still had a grievance
from its point of view. The “way of the world” indeed demands clarity and
exclusivity. Two cannot simultaneously occupy the seat of power. While the
original creation of the moon accorded it as much significance as the sun,
the way all things interact with each other demanded that one of the two
luminaries step down. There were good arguments why it had to be the moon,
but that did not remove the perception that the position of the moon had
been sacrificed for the general good. This injustice still required a kaparah.
Here is where many of us are stymied. How could Hashem require “atonement?”
And what good would a korban do in this regard? To whom does Hashem address
a korban? Our incomprehension owes to serial mistranslations. We think that
“kaparah” means something done to compensate for a sin. A “korban,” we
believe, is a gift, like that which a subject might bring to a king he has
offended. A “chet” is a sin.
None of those translations are accurate. Kaparah means a removal, a
cleansing. That is how Rashi treats it elsewhere. 4 A korban
is not a “sacrifice” or a gift offered as a bribe. It literally means
something that brings close. Chet does not mean sin as much as it means a
deficiency, as in Yaakov’s description of his having to make restitution for
any and all losses to Lavan’s sheep: “I would bear the deficiency.”
Putting it all together, the midrash does not in any manner or form leave
room to see Hashem as “sinning,” in the sense of committing an impropriety.
Yet “deficiency” certainly came about through Hashem’s modification of the
first creation of the luminaries, leaving the moon as the smaller, lesser
light. The diminution of the moon from its original position would
necessarily cascade as a series of negative consequences in the spheres of
influence that were originally entrusted. However we understand the
original role of the moon, it was given dominion over certain phenomena. The
luminaries are describes as “rulers.” When the moon was reduced, it was
left with less to pass along to what it presided over. The entire world -
not just the moon – was rendered deficient.
The diminution of the moon is replayed every month during the waning phase.
Invariably, however, this monthly diminution is followed by a reversal, in
which the moon grows in apparent size. The moon’s diminution results from
Hashem’s application of the midah of din, which restricts, confines and
limits. Din, however, gives way to Hashem’s chesed – an opportunity for us
to draw closer to Him. We are invited to attach ourselves to Him, to avail
ourselves of the new light He creates each month, through a korban, which
brings people closer to Hashem. We should also observe that the opportunity
for deveikus to Hashem comes about specifically because it was preceded by a
period of diminution. HKBH prefers the small to the large. Because we limit
ourselves, because we diminish our own stature, we are afforded an
opportunity to attach ourselves to Him when He displays His midah of chesed.
We don’t have that opportunity when we inflate our worth and self-image.
In other words, the chet deficiency that came about through the diminution
of the moon is given a kaparah is removed and cleansed on each Rosh Chodesh,
when the moon begins growing anew. We are instructed to bring a korban
something that draws us close to Him to seize the moment. The korban of
Rosh Chodesh, then, does in fact “atone” for the “chet” of the diminution of
With our beis hamikdosh in ruins, we do not have the ability to physically
bring a korban on Rosh Chodesh. Chazal teach us, however, that even in the
absence of a physical beis hamikdosh, the seder korban, the protocol of
display of Hashem’s midos, is still very much in effect. We can respond to
the periodic appearance of din by looking ahead for the certainty of a shift
in the direction of chesed. When we detect this reversal, we must be ready
to savor it, to internalize its light, and endeavor to attach ourselves to
Him more firmly.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Bamidbar 28:15; Chidushei Aggados, Shavuos 9A;
Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Gemilas Chasodim, chap. 1
2. Chulin 60B
3. Bereishis 1:14
4. Bereishis 32:21
5. Bereishis 31:39