Sabbath/New Moon Prayer Alteration


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim


 

This Sabbath is the New Moon of Shvat 5777. On this day, our regular Additional (Musaf) service is altered. Instead of the regular prayer, we recite “Atah yatzarta olamcha m’kedem; You formed Your world from long ago.” We must ask: Why was this prayer changed on account of the Sabbath/New Moon combination?


Looking at the altered text, we notice the altered concepts: 1) God’s creation, and 2) from long ago. The first step in approaching this question is to define the two days of Sabbath and the New Moon, independent of each other. We will then be better equipped to understand what concept their combination highlights.

The Sabbath has the unique distinction of God’s creation of the universe from nothingness, “creation ex nihilo.” All matter was brought into existence and completed, and God refrained from any additional creation from the seventh day and forward. The Rabbis teach[1] that the miracles throughout time were “programmed” into Creation. God did not enact new changes “in time,” primarily because He is above time. Maimonides teaches that time itself is also one of God’s creations. We might then ask, if this is so, that Creation was complete, why then do we recite “You formed Your world from long ago” only on the Sabbath/New Moon combination? We should recite it every Sabbath!


What is the New Moon? The New Moon is different from the Sabbath. On it, we do not commemorate the completion of Creation, but the completion of the circuit of the Moon. How is the Moon’s circuit different than Creation? It too was designed by God!

There is a distinction. Creation, celebrated by the Sabbath, addresses God’s creation of the universe from nothingness. Sabbath addresses the “substances” of creation. The New Moon embodies a different phenomenon; not the substances of creation, but the “laws” of Creation.

God created two things; substances and laws governing those substances. On the first Sabbath, although all matter was complete, the laws governing their behavior could not be seen in their completion. For example, the Moon’s orbit of the Earth is about 29 days. By definition, on the first Sabbath, the fulfillment of the Moon’s cycle had a few more weeks to go. In truth, all of Creation could not be witnessed on the first Sabbath, as many of God’s laws would not display their complete cycles of behavior for months, and for the planets and stars, even years.

What happens on the Sabbath/New Moon combination? On this day, both systems coincide, displaying a completion of both; God’s physical creation of substances (Sabbath) and the fulfillment or completion of the universe’s laws (New Moon). On this special day, it is appropriate to offer this unique praise to God, “You formed Your world from long ago”: formation of the world corresponds to the Sabbath, but “long ago” corresponds to a system, which, although enacted at a prior time, only fulfills its mission much later. “Long ago” is a reference to time, not substance, describing that, which only bears God’s creation, after some time, i.e., the behavioral aspect of Creation. Physical creation can be beheld in a glance, but a system of operation unfolds its design only after a span of some time.

Both aspects of Creation are witnessed on this special Sabbath/New Moon: Sabbath recalls physical creation, and the new Moon testifies to God’s laws operating in their completion.

 


Postscript
While it is true that sunrise or sunset can teach this idea observed in the New Moon, perhaps its frequency and familiarity diminishes its significance in man’s eyes. Therefore, the New Moon was selected by the Rabbis as the more impressive phenomenon on which to establish praise to God.

I believe this second aspect of Creation, i.e.,  its laws, are alluded to in Genesis 2:4.



[1] Ethics 5:6