By Rav David Silverberg

The Torah tells of the creation on the fourth day of the “two large luminaries,” and then proceeds to clarify that these are the “large luminary” – the sun, which shines by day – and the “small luminary” – the moon, which shines at night.  To explain why the Torah initially refers to the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries,” Rashi writes, based on the Gemara (Chulin 60b), that God originally created the sun and moon equal in size.  The moon, however, protested, arguing, “It is not possible for two kings to reign with one crown,” and God responded by diminishing the moon’s size.  Thus, initially there were “two large luminaries,” but then they became “the large luminary” and “the small luminary.”

An especially insightful approach to explaining this famous comment of Rashi is suggested by Rav Dov Weinberger, in his Shemen Ha-tov (vol. 4).  He writes that the moon’s mistake lay in his description of his and the sun’s role in terms of governance: “It is not possible for two kings to reign with one crown.”  The sun and the moon were not created to “rule,” but rather to serve a specific function – to illuminate the earth.  As Rav Weinberger observes, it is only after the moon’s complaint, when its size was diminished, that the Torah speaks of them as “ruling” (“le-memshelet…ve-limshol”).  Before the moon’s objection, the sun and moon served, as opposed to rule.  And this is precisely the moon’s mistake.  It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, for two kings to rule together, but two servants can certainly work in perfect harmony together, cooperating to complete their assigned task.  If people see themselves as servants, given a task or series of tasks to perform, then they need simply to construct an efficient practical arrangement whereby the particular duties are divided among them.  But when people seek to use their position to exert authority or control, or for their own prestige, then they will, in all likelihood, be unable to work together.  Necessarily, they will be in a constant state of competition with one another, rather than working in conjunction with one another, and this arrangement is thus doomed to fail.

This is the message the Gemara seeks to convey to us.  The key to successful cooperation is remaining focused on the satisfactory completion of the task at hand, and not on personal aggrandizement.  If we approach life with the goal of performing our individual missions and carrying out our responsibilities, we will find it easier to work peacefully and harmoniously with other people.  Friction and tension arise, more often than not, when people pursue honor and prestige, rather than the satisfactory fulfillment of their obligations.

Originally appears on VBM

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