Today is Rosh Hodesh Sivan, which means that the final days of the Omer leading into Shavuot are upon us. One not so commonly known fact is that the day leading intoRosh Hodesh is marked by some communities as Yom Kippur Katan (a mini Yom Kippur). You won't find reference to it in Conservative siddurim, nor for that matter in Artscroll, Koren or Rinat Yisrael (Orthodox siddurim), but if you happen to have a copy of the greatSiddur Avodat Yisrael (The Ber Siddur), you can find the entire ritual described (starting on p.319).
It seems that the earliest references to Yom Kippur Katan were made by the 16th century mystics Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz in Shnei Luchot Haberit. They speak of this day as one of fasting and confession. Some wear tallit andtefillin at Minchah and recite a great number of Psalms and other penitential prayers.
Where does this all come from? The origin seems to be from the verse we read for Rosh Hodesh in Numbers 28:15 where the goat is described as a purification offering "for the Lord". In the Talmud,Hullin 60b, Rabbi Simon ben Lakish makes the remarkable claim that this "sin" offering is made on behalf of God for the "sin" of reducing the size of the moon. This in turn refers to the famous legend based on the inconsistency of Genesis 1:16 in which the verse first refers to the two "big" luminaries, and then to the "big and the small". The Midrashhas a personified moon criticizing God for making two equal rulers, to which God responds-then make yourself smaller! To which the moon responds-I spoke the truth, and you punish me? To which God responds-fine, to compensate you will be visible both day and night.
I don't know what is more astonishing-that in this aggadah planets criticize God or the concept of God accepting the criticism and compensating the moon for the damage and then prescribing a monthly ritual of purification FOR GOD each Erev Rosh Hodesh (with many exceptions).
Of course the later Rabbis back away from this radical description of a God prone to errors and make Yom Kippur Katan into a time to recognize our own errors and repent for them. Most of us are satisfied asking forgiveness once a year during the ten days of repentance, but perhaps there is something to this custom of a monthly ritual of teshuvah and a sense that repentance and purification are necessary in the highest heavens as well as for us on earth.
As we prepare to receive the Torah this coming week on Shavuot, we recall the importance of internal unity to make revelation possible. And internal unity is never possible when there is anger and discord within a community. As we finish this month and prepare for revelation, let us seek one another out and offer apologies for wrongs done so that we can be deserving of revelation.
I too ask for general forgiveness between members of our community so that we can all feel whole with one another, and our shul can be a place of kindness, compassion and revelation.
Shabbat Shalom, Hodesh Tov, and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham
Rabbi Abraham will not be writing a message for next week due to the Shavuot holiday. His message will return on June 13th.