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The Bright Shine of Humility

October 17, 2020

It didn’t take long before the first complaint. It was only the fourth day of creation, still days before the arrival of a human being, and the moon was already unhappy.

The Torah states, “ויעש אלקים את שני המארת הגדולים את המאור הגדול לממשלת הוים ואת המאור הקטן לממשלת הלילה ואת הכוכבים, Hashem made the two large luminaries, the large luminary to rule over the day and the small luminary to rule over the night, and the stars. (Bereishis 1:14)” The beginning of the verse describes both luminaries as big, and the end of the verse describes one as big and one as small! Were they both big or was only one big?

Ibn Ezra suggests a simple solution. Both luminaries were large in comparison to the stars, but when compared to each other, one was large and one small. So it makes sense to refer to both the sun and the moon as large, but when being discussed together, the sun is considered large, and the moon relatively small.

Rashi, however, cites Chazal who understand that there is a deeper message here. He tells the well-known story of the moon complaining that “אי אפשר לשני מלכים שישתמשו בכתר אחד, it’s not possible for two kings to share one crown. (Rashi Bereishis 1:14)” Meaning, both the sun and moon were originally created equally large, but the moon wasn’t happy with this plan. He wanted to be larger and more prominent. So Hashem, disappointed by the moon’s complaints, decided to make the moon smaller, thus relegating the moon to be the small luminary. Presumably, the moon was upset with this punishment, but hopefully learned his lesson.

However, the Gemara on Chullin 60B tells this same story with a slight difference:

רבי שמעון בן פזי רמי כתיב (בראשית א:טז) ויעש אלהים את שני המאורות הגדולים וכתיב את המאור הגדול ואת המאור הקטן אמרה ירח לפני הקב"ה רבש"ע אפשר לשני מלכים שישתמשו בכתר אחד אמר לה לכי ומעטי את עצמך.

R. Shimon ben Pazi raises a contradiction. It is written, “And God made the two big lights” (Genesis 1:16), and it is also written, “The big light and the small light. The moon said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, “Is it possible for two kings to serve with one crown?” Hashem said to her, “Go and make yourself smaller.”

This wasn’t merely a punishment, but Hashem teaching a lesson to the moon, and truly to all of us. Hashem didn’t make the moon smaller, rather He told them moon to go and make himself smaller. Hashem wasn’t just referring to the moon’s physical size, but to our perception of ourselves and how we relate to others.

Of course, sometimes a complaint is justified and even appropriate. But often we complain out of a sense of entitlement. We think we deserve something, are owed something, or are greater than someone else. We have all thought at some point, just like the moon did years ago, “I should be the bigger one! I should have the more prominent role! I’m the one who deserves that!” And Hashem’s eternal advice to us is, “לכי ומעטי את עצמך, Go and make yourself smaller.” Consider your accomplishments and your potential, and how much more we could and should be doing. Recognize your place in a large and complicated world. Realize that you are surrounded by great people, and perhaps focus less on your own achievements.

In fact, the Gemara on Chullin 60B concludes:

זיל ליקרו צדיקי בשמיך (עמוס ז:ב) יעקב הקטן שמואל הקטן (שמואל א' יז:יד) דוד הקטן.

Go, and let righteous men be named after you, as in “יעקב הקטן, Yaakov the small one, (Amos 7:2)” “שמואל הקטן, Shmuel the small one, (Shmuel I 17:14)” and “דוד הקטן, David the small one. (ibid)

Being small and feeling small is not an insult or a punishment. Few people have ever accomplished more than Yaakov, Shmuel, or David, yet they are lovingly and admiringly referred to as הקטן, the small one, as an indication of their exceptional humility. Before any people were ever created, Hashem taught us a crucial lesson. Do you want to shine bright like the sun? Try making yourself a little bit smaller first.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Fox

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781