This Shabbat, Parshat Tazria-Metzorah, not only do we stand Ben HaZemanim – between Shoah and Atzmaut – but it is also Rosh Chodesh.
In the days of the Great Court, Rosh Chodesh would be declared when witnesses attested to seeing the first sliver of the new moon. One can imagine, how, in the dark days of the ebbing month, we would stand outside looking upwards, straining to see the first glimmer of renewed light.
Rabbi Simson Raphael Hirsch finds a powerful metaphor in that monthly search:
…Each time the moon finds the sun again, each time it receives its rays of light afresh, G-d wants the Jewish people to find G-d again and to be illuminated with fresh rays of G-d’s light, wherever, and however, in running their course, they have had to pass through periods of darkness and obscurity. (Commentary on the Torah, Exodus 12:2)
Rosh Chodesh exists both to remind us that our quest for G-d must constantly be renewed and that G-d himself can be found even in the darkest of times. For isn’t it G-d “who opens the gates of heaven …removing the sun from its place and the moon from its place of dwelling.” (Tefillat Shacharit Shabbat)
Just before Yom HaShoah, I was privileged to hear a story from Martin Lowenberg, a friend, a mentor and, a 92 year old survivor. His words and his gestures embodied Rav Hirsch’s message and gave me a lense through which to view this period Ben HaZemanim.
He described how he and his friends made matzah in a labor camp in Riga, Latvia. One of their many jobs was to physically transport huge sacks of goods. One cold spring day, Mr. Lowenberg, fortuitously, found himself carrying a huge sack of flour. Knowing that Pesach was near, he secretly stashed a few handfuls of flour. That evening, he and his friends with the little water they had, moistened their hands and quickly kneaded the bit of flour into a matzah dough. But how to cook it? They collectively looked up towards the only source of heat in their barracks – a huge electric bulb. Resolutely, they took turns holding up their hands to the light bulb slowly baking their dough and transferring their precious mitzvah only when the heat became too intense.
As he was reliving the story, my husband and I were transported with him more than 80 years to that cold night in Riga. We could see a teenage Mr. Lowenberg in the darkened barracks of the labor camp raising his hands and his eyes to that single, yet very bright, source of light.
So as we stand this Shabbat, Ben HaZemanim, let us remember to continue to listen to the lessons from the darkness. But also, like the men of ancient Israel and like Mr. Lowenberg, let us also never forget to seek… and be able to find the emerging light.
And for all of us, may this new month be one of good and of blessing.