A linguist, I’m not. I am however intrigued by two Hebrew words used for that waxing and waning disc that appears up in the sky each night. As we make note of the fact that this Saturday marks exactly half a century since Neil Armstrong broadcast: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” to a television watched by riveted, spell bound American people, I should like to pay respect an honor to that earth shaking historic event by focusing on two Hebrew words, Yareach and Levanah.
Although no mention of either word is made in the creation story – the moon is simply referred to the smaller luminary in contradistinction to the sun which is referred to as the larger luminary – both Yareach and Levanah are deserving of our stargazing.
Yareach and Levanah are concepts, albeit of a totally different nature. Yareach connotes time. When taking, a female captive, a spoil of war, we are commanded to permit her to cry (mourn) for yerach yamim or thirty days, as she mourns being wrested from her father and mother (Deuteronomy 21:13). Levanah, on the other hand, connotes color. Lavan is the Hebrew word for white. It does not take much imagination to visualize our ancestors looking up and seeing a white “disc” set against the background of a black sky. Conceptually, Yareach is imperceptible (try to define “a long, long time”) while Levanah (provided the individual is blessed with sight) is perceptible. For one celebrating and appreciating the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing, perhaps time should be taken to ponder, whether Neil Armstrong walked on the Yareach or the Levanah?
In addition to telling us about a celestial creation, Yareach and Levanah tell us about ourselves. Among the many offhanded phrases, used by us in our culture is “make time.” We can set aside time, we can and unfortunately all too often “kill time,” but we cannot “make time.” Time is gifted and assigned to us by HaShem. Time is a stark reminder of our mortality. For those of us who are productive, each day is a race against time; for the religious among us, time serves as an invitation or a challenge beckoning us to use it wisely and productively, so that we ultimately leave this world and particularly our little world in better shape than we found it. When it comes to time, it is up to us, how to make use of the time that we have been allotted. Yareach reminds us that as humans, we are limited. Levanah is totally different. Because it connotes color, Levanah is a gentle reminder that the sky is the limit, when it comes to our resources and ability. Because new colors are being created all the time, they are limitless. So too is our ability to continue to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Less than a decade after President Kennedy proposed that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” Neil Armstrong landed on the Yareach. Only time will tell how much closer the gap remains between us and the Levanah.
Unlike English, the Hebrew language is gender sensitive. Nouns are either masculine or feminine It ought to be noted, that Yareach is a masculine noun, while Levanah is feminine. Just as Eve was created to complete and complement Adam, perhaps the same can be said about Yareach and Levanah. Independently, each has an aura all its own. Yet, an interdependence must exist for Yareach and Levanah to truly shine. With that interdependence, there is harmony between that which is imperceptible (time) and that which is perceptible (color). Interdependence between Levanah and Yareach, helps us distinguish between that which is beyond our control, from that which is within our control. Interdependence reminds us that in and of themselves, Yareach and Levanah are woefully incomplete. Yareach and Levanah need the other to truly shine.
As America celebrates that small step taken by Neil Armstrong fifty years ago, as America gratefully recalls that concomitant giant leap for this country and the rest of the world, come Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbat, I invite you to step outside and look up at a Yareach and Levanah that is full, in more ways than one.