Earlier this week I was talking to one of my Muslim neighbors. I was asking him about his plans for Eid on Friday. And he remarked, well that depends on when we see the new moon.
There was something revelatory for me in this simple reminder that we are not in fact in control of time, and especially not sacred time. While the Jewish calendar is now seemingly set for all time on Hebcal.com, the Mishnah describes the way the announcement of the new moon worked in ancient Jerusalem.
It began when two witnesses came before the Beit Din and testified that they had seen the first sliver of moon. Once their testimony was accepted, a signal was sent out. A messenger—waiting on a mountaintop in Jerusalem—would light a bonfire. Another messenger—waiting on the next mountaintop—would see the light of the first fire and kindle his own. And so on—from mountaintop to mountaintop—all the way from Jerusalem to Babylonia.
Pirke Avot teaches: Eyzeh hu chacham. Haroeh et hanolad. Who is wise? The one who sees what is being born. Hanolad is a term for a newborn child. And it is also a term for that first sliver of the new moon.
As it turns out, when I saw my neighbors last night, they shared the moon had been sighted one night early. I wished them an Eid Mubarak, we shared some tasty dessert and I noted that it was also the new moon by the Jewish calendar as well, having just celebrated Rosh Hodesh Tammuz.
While I appreciate the convenience and confidence we place in our predetermined calendar, I am also feeling some nostalgia for the days when the new moon was determined by testimony and smoke signal. When we looked to the sky rather than our phones to tell time.
In the spirit of Eid, may we all seek out this new moon and the take note of that which is being born within and around us.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.