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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Prayer of the Witnesses

The daf must go on. Day after day there is new learning. In this masechet of Rosh Hashannah there was much to learn, especially for a novice learner like me. In Rosh Hashannah we study about the different types of new years during the year (there are four!). There was material about intentionality of those who blow the shofar. We learned about what makes a shofar kosher and unkosher (if it has a hole in it, it is not kosher!) , whether children can play with the shofar (yes!) and whether you should climb a tree in order to be able to hear the shofar blow (no!)?

Of the many topics of covered in Rosh Hashannah I have chosen to write this poem for our Siyum of Talking Talmud, which will take place this coming Sunday. I have written about the witnesses who volunteer to stand watch in order to spot the new moon (the Molad) as it appears. Once the Molad has appeared the witnesses light torches on the hilltops and thus the information is communicated from hill to hill. Of course, this is a simplification of the subject; there is so much more that the rabbis wrote. They talked about who the witnesses would be, whether they could break the sabbath in order to travel to Jerusalem to talk about their witnessing. Once there, they had to give a detailed description of where the moon appeared and what it looked like. Although only two witnesses were needed to declare the new moon ("Mekudash, mekudash") witnesses were encouraged to go to Jerusalem and report so that there would never be a scarcity of witnesses.

And as I have learned, it is not the new moon that declares the calendar and the beginning of the month, but the new moon being witnessed by ordinary people.

Ah, but I go on too long for this short page.

In brief, it is my privilege to learn Talmud with Yardaeana Osband and Anne Gordon on the Talking Talmud podcast. This poem is about the act of witnessing and I hope that it brings you to the top of the hill one night in the dark waiting for the moon to appear.

The Prayer of the Witnesses

We sit alone

our faces turned toward the sky.

Deep velvet blue darkness

pierced with endless stars.


broken only by the call of an owl.

A light breeze travels by

on its way to Jerusalem,

carrying with it

the golden dust of the hills.

* *

Ribbono Shel Ha'olam,

teach us to see through the darkness,

to search for the small,

the most insignificant,

the barest hint of a moon,

shyly rising

on the horizon.

Enable us to gaze at the night sky

to trust our vision;

to see the potential

of the Molad,

for a new moon is all potential

of good tidings,

of good health,

in its modest beginnings.

Ribbono shel Ha'olam,

Give us patience to watch,

although we may be weary,

our eyes heavy.

Grant us the knowledge

that a sliver of light, so distant,

can bring order to our lives.

Teach us the ability to discern

between light and darkness,

Beyn Ohr L'Choshech

So that we may be accurate in our vision.

Ribbono Shel Ha'olam

We are but the smallest of specks of dust

in this of sky which goes on forever;

perched on this hill,

in the stillness of night,

players in the unfolding drama

of the movement of the universe.

Open our eyes to perceive through the darkness,

to capture the light of the new moon.


The breeze has reached Jerusalem.

The owl has stopped its show.

The dew is settling on our cloaks

and there is silence in the hills.


Our wide eyes lift to the sky,

searching, seeking

and the doors to the sky open

just a crack

to reveal, the l'vannah, the Molad.

We peer through the darkness

at the thinnest of crescents,

veiled in a yellow haze.

And our hearts skip a beat.

We reach for pine and cedar and reeds,

with trembling fingers

we light our torches.

The crackling blaze illuminates our


just as the Molad is illuminated,

with modesty,

with beauty,

it lights the way to a new month,

to a new year.

Masechet Rosh Hashannah 2:3-7 (Translation from Sefaria)

כֵּיצַד הָיוּ מַשִּׂיאִין מַשּׂוּאוֹת, מְבִיאִין כְּלֻנְסָאוֹת שֶׁל אֶרֶז אֲרֻכִּין וְקָנִים וַעֲצֵי שֶׁמֶן וּנְעֹרֶת שֶׁל פִּשְׁתָּן וְכוֹרֵךְ בִּמְשִׁיחָה, וְעוֹלֶה לְרֹאשׁ הָהָר וּמַצִּית בָּהֶן אֶת הָאוּר, וּמוֹלִיךְ וּמֵבִיא וּמַעֲלֶה וּמוֹרִיד, עַד שֶׁהוּא רוֹאֶה אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה כֵן בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר הַשֵּׁנִי, וְכֵן בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי: The mishna asks: How would they light the torches during that earlier period? They would bring items that burn well, e.g., long poles of cedar, reeds, pinewood, and beaten flax, and tie them together with a string. And someone would then ascend to the top of the mountain and light the torch on fire with them, and wave it back and forth and up and down, until he would see his colleague doing likewise on the top of the second mountain. In this manner he would know that the next messenger had received the message and passed it on. And similarly, the second torchbearer would wait for a signal from the one on the top of the third mountain, and so on. In this manner the message would reach the Diaspora.

P.S. I believe that the next Masechet, which we will start next week, is Masechet Ta'anit. There are so many ways to learn Daf Yomi! Is it time for you to jump on the wagon?

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