When Rosh Chodesh comes out on Sunday, then, on the previous Shabbat, instead of reading the Haftarah that is appropriate to that Parsha, we read a special Haftarah called “Machar Chodesh” – “Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh.” This is rather puzzling. When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat itself, it makes sense that we would read a special Haftarah. But what does it matter what the next day is? We don’t have a “Machar” anything else – no “Machar Pesach” or “Machar Shavuot,” only “Machar Chodesh.” It must mean that the day before Rosh Chodesh has intrinsic meaning, one worth marking with its own prophetic message.
The definition of Rosh Chodesh is the night that the sliver of the new moon appears in the sky. The night before, Machar Chodesh, is a night with no moon at all. It is completely dark.
The Haftarah of Machar Chodesh describes the darkest time in the life of David HaMelech. Until this point, he had been the golden boy of the kingdom: he defeated Goliath, was married to the king’s daughter, the king’s son was his best friend, and the entire country was singing songs about him. Now, all of a sudden, for no reason that he can discern, the king has turned against him. He barely escaped arrest and execution – his wife Michal helped him sneak out the window and lied about him to the guards. Yet, as far as he knows, he has done nothing wrong, and none of it makes sense.
Yonatan, Shaul HaMelech’s son, does not understand it, either. He is sure that his father loves David as much as he does, and that he would know if something were wrong. The Haftarah tells us about the plan that David and Yonatan devise to figure out how Shaul really feels about David, a plan that is carried out the next day – on Rosh Chodesh. And indeed, when Shaul hears that Yonatan let David be absent from the Rosh Chodesh celebrations, it is sufficient pretext to ignite his fury, and he lashes out not only at David, but at Yonatan himself.
Now David has no choice but to run and hide from the king. This means that he loses everything – his family, who are also in danger and go into exile in Moav, his position in the king’s army, his role in the court, his wife Michal, and worst of all, his dearest friend, Yonatan. As we read about the two of them standing there crying on each other’s shoulders, we wish that we could tell David that his future will be a bright one, that he will become king over all of Yisrael, and that he will establish a dynasty that will be the aspiration and hope of all of the Jewish People for all generations.
And indeed, when we sanctify the new moon at Kiddush Levana, it is our tradition to say, “David Melech Yisrael Chai Ve’Kayam” – “David, the king of Israel, lives on forever!” The Rema, when citing this tradition in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch, explains the relevance of David HaMelech to the moon:
ונוהגין לומר: דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים, שמלכותו נמשל ללבנה ועתיד להתחדש כמותה וכנסת ישראל תחזור להתדבק בבעלה שהוא הקדוש ברוך הוא, דוגמת הלבנה המתחדשת עם החמה שנאמר: שמש ומגן ה’ (תהילים פד, יב) ולכך עושין שמחות ורקודין בקידוש החדש דוגמת שמחת נשואין.
It is customary to say: “David Melech Yisrael, lives on forever!” because his reign is compared to the moon, and is destined to be renewed like the moon, and Knesset Yisrael will return and reconnect with her spouse, which is HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu, just as the moon is renewed with the sun, as it says, “Hashem is the sun and the shield” (Tehillim 84:12); therefore, we dance and rejoice at the Kiddush HaChodesh as one does at a wedding.
(Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh 426)
The Rema explains that the moon symbolizes David HaMelech. Just as the moon waxes and wanes and disappears but then waxes again, so, too David’s dynasty waxes and wanes. It might look like it has completely disappeared, but it will reappear. When we see the renewed moon, we are filled with the hope that we will also be privileged to see the renewal of David’s kingdom.
The Rema takes this idea one step further: the moon is a metaphor not only for David, but for the Jewish People as a whole. We, too, wax and wane. We, too, sometimes feel like we’re in danger of disappearing entirely, and that G-d’s light no longer shines upon us. The renewal of the moon gives us hope and reminds us that our relationship with G-d is also renewed.
Machar Chodesh, the darkest night of the month, symbolizes the Jewish People at our most vulnerable. The Haftarah of Machar Chodesh presents us David HaMelech at his most vulnerable, as he stands before a future that looks bleak and dark. His life, and the life of his descendants, will not move in a straight line. There will be highs that will reflect light and hope for millennia, and there will also be lows that last for generations on end.
So, too, the Jewish People. Our story also does not follow a straight line. Yet, as the Haftarah of Machar Chodesh reminds us, no matter how bleak and dark a given moment in Jewish History might be, we know that the future we face is full of light.
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל