If you stepped outside at midnight on Wednesday, you would have had a once-in-a-blue-moon experience! The streets of Caulfield were quiet and sleepy, but the moon was colourful and vibrant. It wasn’t blue, but in fact a ‘super blood moon’, radiating an eerie reddish-orange glow as it was slowly and majestically eclipsed by shadow. It’s called by this impressive name because it was January’s second full moon and there was a lunar eclipse at the very same time. The colour is apparently caused when the reflected sunlight on the earth’s atmosphere hits the lunar surface.
I’ve always held a special place for the moon in my heart. I love its constancy, its reassuring illumination in the darkness, its playful hide-and-seek behind the clouds, its changing shape, colour and location. I admire its global presence for wherever you travel in the world it’s there for you. Einstein put it: “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it”.
As Jews we’ve long had a special relationship with the moon. It fixes our calendar (“He appointed the moon for seasons: Psalm 104) and makes us all lunatics! The Talmud (in the tractate of Rosh Hashanah) describes the origins of our moon-gazing, how witnesses were posted on the hilltops of Israel to catch a first glimpse of the new moon.
To this day on the Shabbat preceding a new month (Shabbat Mevarchim) we announce the precise moment that the new moon appears above the skies of Jerusalem. To the mystics and philosophers the nation of Israel is like the moon: small and apparently weak but destined to achieve great things. Israel is an innovation nation because like the moon it constantly renews and reinvents itself. The Hebrew word for month ‘Chodesh’ has its source the word for new ‘chadash’. Another word for month – yareach – is also the word for moon.
For me the moon is a reminder about what drives us, the tides of our emotions, the magnetic attractions of our hearts and the pull of our desires. Like Pablo Neruda, I believe “the moon lives in the lining of your skin”. It’s about the play of light and darkness in our souls; Mark Twain once said “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody”. It’s however also about the abiding power of hope. It’s there in the darkness even if shrouded by clouds.
For the Midrash the moon is a feminine presence – the woman in the moon! It records a dialogue between God and the moon at the time of creation. The moon was disgruntled that the sun was originally as large as her and challenges God saying “Can two kings share one crown?” God responds by telling the moon to reduce itself. Another less punitive interpretation has God addressing the sibling rivalry between sun and moon by reassuring the moon that despite her diminution she would be tied to the destiny of the Jewish people and thus elevated in our myth and consciousness.
In this gentler interpretation is perhaps a recognition that women have too often been put down and diminished and that they deserve to shine as proudly as the sun or men. That they too are equals in the eyes of God – God made the two great light, the great light for ruling the day and the smaller for ruling the night as well as the stars. The current #MeToo movement is a reminder that we still have a fair way to go in the Jewish community. There are far too many Jewish men in the #MeToo headlines which could admittedly be indicative that there are so many Jewish men in entertainment, media and politics. This is not a Jewish problem, but a problem with and for all men. Nonetheless I agree with Rabbi Daniel Brenner (in the Jerusalem Post) that many Jewish men are avoiding the tough conversation that we should be having; an internal community – focused dialogue about the intersection of sex, sexuality and power in the lives of Jewish men. That we should be asking the hard questions like ‘What are the cultural and religious factors influencing how we think about sex and sexuality?’ and ‘What can we do to help create a safer more equitable environment for everyone?’ To put it differently (and metaphorically): “Tell me the story about how the sun loved the moon so much he died every night to let her breathe”.
In the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, these questions are particularly challenging and relevant. We as a Jewish community and certainly we in the religious community have still not fully digested and responded to the challenges posed by the Commission. We cannot wait for the next blue moon to address these issues! Let’s rise like the brave new moon and face these thorny dilemmas with conviction and clarity. Let’s do our best and shoot for the moon for then ‘even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”.