The sun is a constant and very welcome presence in our lives. Even when it is hidden by clouds, its rays bring light to the world, and its shine warms our hearts and our bones. In contrast, the moon often seems like an afterthought. On a cloudy night or at the end of the month it is invisible, and even when it does shine, it provides very limited light and is primarily known for the brachah of Kiddush Levanah.
But things weren’t always this way.
This week the Torah first refers to both the sun and the moon as hame’oros hagedolim, “the great lights,” but then describes them as the “greater” and the “lesser” lights.
Chazal teach us that originally the sun and the moon were equal in size. However, the moon complained to Hashem, saying, “It is impossible for two kings to use the same crown.”
The Ribbono shel Olam responded by instructing the moon to “go and make yourself smaller.”
The moon argued that it was being punished for making a valid point, and Hashem sought to appease it. He created many stars to conciliate it; in addition, Klal Yisrael would mark their Yamim Tovim based on lunar calculations; and tzaddikim would be compared to the moon. Furthermore, HaKadosh Baruch Hu said, “Bring an atonement for Me, for My having reduced the size of the moon,” and one of the korbanos of Rosh Chodesh is a male goat, which is brought as a korban chatas for this purpose.
What was so wrong with what the moon said? The claim it made regarding two kings using the same crown would appear to be a legitimate one. Harav Nesanel Quinn, zt”l, longtime Menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, gave the following relevant explanation:
The moon did have a valid claim. But it was only the moon that had the problem, because it saw itself as a king, a class in itself which had room for only one ruler. On the other hand, the sun — “shemesh” in lashon kodesh — saw itself as a mere shamash, or servant, whose job it would be to warm and light up the world. It would not be a problem to have more than one shamash performing this job. Because it was only the moon that saw itself as a king, it was the moon that Hashem reduced in size and importance.
For many mortals, it is a natural inclination to crave being in charge and playing the coveted role of a king. We experience genuine angst when we perceive someone usurping our authority, and this need to be the only one in charge of a specific situation, in turn, leads to turf battles and great agmas nefesh.
As Torah Jews, it is our obligation to be cognizant at all times that our real essence is a lofty soul that was sent to this temporal world with a very specific mission. Our role isn’t one of would-be kings protective of our phantom turfs, but we have come to this world to serve our Creator. As servants of Hashem, we should welcome others who are engaged in the same mission, and view others not as competitors but as partners and allies.
Those who inculcate this crucial lesson within their hearts find that it is a pathway to spiritual riches and true happiness. Like the glorious shine of the sun, they bring light to the world through their performance of mitzvos and warmth to humanity through their acts of kindness.
There are numerous esoteric explanations of this Midrash as well. One of them is that while gadol, “great” or “large,” is generally considered to be a positive term, and katan, “small,” is generally perceived as negative, this is not always the case.
Children are often referred to by Chazal as ketanim. They know that they cannot manage without their parents, and it is their wholesome and pure dependence on the adults in their lives that makes them so endearing. But if someone who is on a relatively low spiritual level (“katan”) thinks that he can manage his spiritual life on his own, he is compared to a person sitting in a coal-black cellar, never tasting the glory of the light, without an inkling of what he is missing. An individual who is on a higher level of ruchniyus, one who has tasted the light, realizes that he cannot do anything in the world — and certainly not something as lofty as avodas Hashem — on his own. Rather, he cries out to his Father in Heaven: “Teach me! Show me the way!”
This in itself is a lofty level of avodas Hashem, the recognition of being a katan, knowing how limited and inferior a mere mortal is relative to the enormity of his spiritual calling. This in turn allows for and stimulates growth in avodas Hashem.
The moon was troubled at being referred to as one of the “great lights,” a term which seemed to bar growth. It argued that “it is impossible for two kings to use the same crown.” It was not only referring to the “two kings” but to the “same crown” — i.e., being constantly on the same level.
The moon was told that the original “great” light was hidden for the tzaddikim in the future. Since it wished to experience growth, the moon would have to become even smaller than it was at present; then it could “grow” back to its current position.
(Adapted from a teaching of the Pieczesner Rebbe, zy”a)