Rav Kook Torah

Pinchas: Atonement for the New Moon


The Torah describes the offerings presented for each holiday, starting with those brought on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the lunar month.

“This is the burnt-offering of the new month, throughout the months of the year. And one male goat for a sin-offering to God.” (Num. 28: 14-15)

There is a very peculiar Talmudic tradition about the purpose of the new moon sin-offering. For whom does this offering atone? The Talmud (Chulin 60b) explains that this is literally a “sin offering for God.” The offering comes to atone for God, as it were, for making the moon smaller than the sun. (According to the Midrash, the sun and the moon were initially created the same size. The moon complained, “Is it possible for two kings to rule with one crown?” and was punished by being reduced in size.) For this reason, a sin- offering is presented with the appearance of the new moon.

Is it possible to say that God sinned? That God needs atonement?

Restricting the Infinite

This monthly offering relates to the essence of the creation process. The very act of creation is problematic, confining infinite holiness within the finite boundaries of time and place. This constriction is only possible if there is a continual process of renewal, whereby the physical limits are gradually released, expanding the material boundaries.

In Hebrew, the words “month” (chodesh) and “new” (chadash) share the same root. The new month signals renewal and advancement.

The animal brought for this sin-offering is a goat. Why a goat? The goat by nature is a destructive animal, devouring not only the leaves but the branches and roots, destroying the foliage and eroding the earth. Within the order of creation, the universe requires destructive forces, in order to break down the limiting borders and push forward the renewal of existence to ever higher levels. In this context, those phenomena that would seem to be purely negative and destructive are redeemed and given cosmic significance.

The principal offering for the new month was not the sin-offering, but an olah, an all burnt-offering. The word olah means to raise up or elevate. The atonement for the constrictive nature of the physical universe — as symbolized by the reduction in the moon’s size — is through the combination of the destructive forces (the goat offering) with the continual renewal and elevation of the world (the olah offering).

(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 278-279. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 165)