This Friday night we usher in a new moon. In Judaism, the new moon is the beginning of a new Hebrew month. The Jewish calendar is predicated upon the lunar, 29.5-day cycle in which the moon, as perceived by an observer on earth, completes its revolution around the earth.
Thus, the Jewish calendar is measured by the duration of time from one new moon to the next. Twelve such months add up to a year of approximately 354 days. This is eleven days short of the 365.25-day solar cycle of seasons. To compensate the Jewish year alternates between 12 and 13 months, the extra month (added seven times in a 19-year cycle) serves to align the lunar months with the solar cycle.
The new month is the night on which the moon is first visible after its monthly disappearance from our nighttime sky (hence the Hebrew word for month, chodesh, from the root chadash, new). The month consists of 29 or 30 days, until the next new moon marks the onset of a new month. The first half of the Jewish month is thus marked by a nightly growing moon, which reaches its full luminescent potential on the 15th night; by the 16th night the moon has already begun to diminish, and continues to shrink nightly until another new moon and month are born.
These repeated cycles of growing and diminishing are what yield the unique qualities of lunar time. Living with the moon, we learn how darkness can give birth to light and how absence can generate renewed presence. From the cycle of the moon we can learn to exploit the momentum of our descents so that we may scale new and unprecedented heights.
On a deeper level, the moon has a commonality with mankind. Man is unique among G-d's creations in that he alone is a journeyer through life. All other creations, including the loftiest of spiritual beings are stationary "standers." A "stander" is not necessarily immobile; indeed, all things possess, to some degree or other, the potential for development and advancement. But these creations move in a state of pre-ordained limits, which they cannot transcend. Only the human being is lunar, with a trajectory through life, which includes both growth and decline, obliteration and rebirth.
For man alone possesses the power of free choice -- a power as potent as it is lethal, as infinite as it is constricting. With free choice comes the capacity for utter self-destruction, and the capacity for utter self-transformation. Man has the power to negate everything he is and stands for, and in the next moment, to re-create himself in a new mold and embark on a path that his prior existence could never have anticipated.
Like the vacuum, which draws liquid into a syringe, it is the voids and absences of life that compel its greatest achievements and fulfillment. This is the essence of lunar time, oblivion as the harbinger of renewal and darkness as the impetus for reborn light.
Adapted from a teaching of the Rebbe, courtesy of Rabbi Simon Jacobson from MeaningfulLife.com.