Jews are moonwatchers.
Always have been, always will be. Our festivals and agriculture are tied to its phases, our months change according to its predictable behavior, and our meticulous observation of it was so important in early Judaism that a Rabbinic court had to certify that a new moon had occurred in order to keep everyone on the same (calendar) page.
At the same time, the moon has always had that element of mystery about it. When Genesis calls it the “lesser light”, the Talmud explains it through a midrash about the moon not wanting to “share the same crown” as the sun, which leads lead to its banishment, but eventual adornment with stars. I love that story, and the way the moon gets a measure of revenge when it just barely covers the sun during a solar eclipse. (Because isn’t it ironic that the moon is just the perfect size to just cover the soon in the infinity of space? Dontyathink?)
Sure, the sunrise is beautiful. Many of us have experienced a breathtaking sunrise at the ocean or at Masada, or Instagrammed the sky at dusk as the sun ducks under the western horizon. But the moon is more secretive. More unpredictable. Each day we know, intuitively and by our biological clocks, when the sun comes up, but how many of us know when the moon is coming up, or where it will appear in the sky? To me, it’s always a surprise. I’m not a moonscholar.
On the eve of Passover, one of our full moon festivals, two particular full moon memories come to mind.
First, in 1991, I vividly recall one night at camp when the full moon was out and I was not tired at all. That summer was famous for a few things, including what may have been the most poorly-behaved bunk in camp history, but that night was low-key and melancholy. I remember sitting out all night, from lights-out at what was probably 9:45 until our counselor came back at 1:00, watching the full moon come up and then lazily cross the night sky over the expanse of the B-side field. The shmirah would walk by every few minutes and I’d chat with them, but the time passed slowly. I literally did nothing and just sat there on a pile of outgoing laundry, pondering the world as a 13-year old with his whole life ahead of him, feeling like there was time, and a whole lot of life ahead of me, for absolutely everything and anything.
Things have changed a bit since then.
Fast forward 25 years and this week found our family up in Maine, on the beach for a few quiet days before the arrival of 58 baseball games (minimum), 26 soccer games (and that’s before practices, ballet, girl scouts, and committee meetings) all between now and June 18. I guess we’re ready.
Our bi-annual pilgrimage to the Maine coast features predictable activities and a welcome escape from the nonstop parade of commitments that regular provides us, but chief among the tried-and-true family favorites is the tradition of glo-sticks on the beach after dark. The kids make them into elaborate bracelets and necklaces and also use them as mini-frisbees, chucking them around for an hour or so. This year, the spectacle was illuminated by a gigantic almost-full moon that rose over the Atlantic and illuminated the beach. Moonshadows darkened the sand, a light breeze came and went, and the kids ran around with unbridled enthusiasm. For a short time I looked out at the ocean, and the full moon, listening to the surf and also the squeals of the kids. It was a peaceful moment, just me and the moon. Maybe it was only a minute, or two, instead of longer, but to find that time and space was a little old-school and it brought me back to that porch for just a moment.
This is basically a long way of saying that time passes, as does perspective. 25 years ago I had all the time in the world to feel angst, be awake long into the night without a real care in the world, and lounge around on a bunk porch on a summer’s evening (July 26, 1991, methinks) while the moon crossed the sky. Today, are you kidding me? There definitely aren’t many of those opportunities. No regrets, really, as it’s better to share good times with family than experience melancholy ones alone, but it’s still amazing to think how easy we all really had it back then.
Tonight, as you open the door for Elijah, the moon in Boston will be hidden behind the clouds and the rain, but tomorrow night we should be good for a nice show. In the midst of your Seders, I hope you all find a moment to be with the moon and give it your regards. May its warm glow only add to the glow of your celebration.