This week’s parsha, beyond speaking of Pinchas’ legacy, and the matter of the daughters of Zelophechad, lists a census and the annual list of holidays that still highlight the Jewish calendar. Since this list of holidays has appeared elsewhere (especially in parshat Emor in Vayikra / Leviticus), it is interesting to note that the classic commentators still have things to say about this list – when, in many similar cases in the Torah, the commentators are relatively silent. Sforno makes one comment in this vein, speaking about the uniqueness of Rosh Chodesh (the head of the new month). He argues (28:11) that Rosh Chodesh is singled out as a special holiday because of the connection between Israel (the people) and the moon. Just like the moon, Sforno argues, Israel waxes and wanes throughout history, and only derives her light from a source independent of her – i.e. Hashem.
This is a fascinating midrashic (exegetical) reading of Rosh Chodesh, and one that brings to mind the somewhat contradictory idea of being a light unto the nations. While Sforno does not speak to this connection in his commentary, I think that we can both view ourselves as dependent on Hashem and as being effective transmitters of that already reflected light outwards in our own human communities. As I mentioned in my take on the concept of being a light unto the nations, I think we can each refract the light from those that inspire and challenge us, embodying the precept on an individual level as well.
The moon teaches us
The importance of growing
With and from others