In honor of the upcoming Shabbat Mevarekhim Chodesh Adar, OU Press is proud to feature an excerpt from Rabbi Elchanan Adler’s new book ‘Yerach Tov: Birkat HaChodesh in Jewish Law and Liturgy’, the prayer we recite ushering in the new month.
Sha’arei Ephraim writes (p. 145):
Some say it is appropriate to know during Birkat HaChodesh when the molad will be, since the mainstay of the chodesh (lit. renewal) is the molad (i.e., the moment of the moon’s renewal), and we make reference to this with the word yechadeshehu (which contains the root Ch-D-Sh). If one does not know the molad, he has still fulfilled the prayer, since the main point is to know the day when Rosh Chodesh will fall.
In other words, although we observe an entire day of Rosh Chodesh, the true beginning of the month is synchronous with the instant of the molad. Literally, molad means “the birth,” referring to the birth or renewed visibility of the moon. The molad is like Rosh Chodesh’s distilled essence.
Barukh She’amar argues that we cannot recite Kiddush Levana, the blessing on the new moon, until the moon reaches a “sweet” level of brightness seven days after the molad. Hence, we announce the molad to inform the public of the earliest time to recite Kiddush Levanah. Along these lines, one may suggest that since one may not recite Kiddush Levanah after half the time between the two moladot elapsed, we announce the molad to inform the public of the latest time to recite Kiddush Levanah.
The Talmud notes that it is a mitzvah, a positive commandment, to perform astronomical calculations necessary for an accurate calendar. R. Shlomo Luria writes that calculating the molad is part of this mitzvah. Hence, perhaps by announcing the molad we partially fulfill the mitzvah. Based on this, R. Yaakov b. Yoel of Brisk writes that perhaps we should announce the last month’s molad and then perform the arithmetic in synagogue to arrive at the coming month’s molad, since this ensures that everyone performs the mitzvah of making calculations.
Mekor Chaim writes that the chazan should know the molad before he begins Birkat HaChodesh, and he should inform someone next to him of the molad’s time before reciting Mi She’asah Nissim. This implies that the chazan should not or need not announce the molad to everyone. Indeed, Likkutei Mahari’ach cites the Ohev Yisrael as discouraging public announcement of the molad. Ohev Yisrael adduced a pun to support this idea, from the verse, “Esther did not tell her birthplace (moladtah).” The word “Esther,” according to Rashi, is phonetically similar to the Aramaic “seihara,” which means “moon.” Hence, the verse suggests that the moon should not reveal its molad.