by R. Daniel Mann
Question: Last week clouds covered the moon after some of us began Kiddush Levana. Can the remainder rely on their “testimony” to join the beracha?
Answer: Many early sources (Yerushalmi, Berachot 9:2; Sanhedrin 42a, in some texts; Rambam, Berachot 10:16; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 426:1) present the seeing of the moon as the presumed prompt for making the beracha, saying: “One who sees the moon …” This is despite the fact that we do not need testimony to know that it is there. If the beracha were a matter of the tzibbur, one could argue that if (most of) the minyan saw it, others could join the beracha if it began properly. However, Kiddush Levana is a beracha of the individual, and it is but a preference to do so among others (Be’ur Halacha to 426:2). Therefore, each individual needs the conditions to make the beracha. Usually, when it was seen moments before, it is likely to again be seen soon thereafter. However, there are still conceptual and practical matters to consider.
Is it critical to be able to see the moon, even in a case in which it will not be visible before the end of the beracha’s period? The Radbaz (I:341) says that a beracha made while the moon is covered is levatala, modeling it after Borei Meorei Ha’esh at Havdala. The Terumat Hadeshen (I:35) instructs that one should wait until Motzaei Shabbat for Kiddush Levana only if it leaves enough days for there not be concern of constant cloud cover. This implies that it can absolutely not be done with cloud cover.
Yet, there is a minority opinion that if constant clouds will prevent doing Kiddush Levana that month, one can do it without seeing the moon (Adnei Paz, OC 426). Conceptually, this may depend on the nature of the beracha. If we thank Hashem for the new month (as the simple reading of the beracha suggests), represented by the new moon, then seeing it is perhaps less important. We do not need to see it when we daily bless Hashem for making the sun and the moon (Yotzer Hame’orot)!
A major source that minimizes the need to see the moon is the Shut Maharshal (47), who says that a blind person (suma) can make the beracha. Many accept this opinion (see Mishna Berura 426:1), although many disagree (see Be’ur Halacha ad loc., VIII, OC 22). In contrast, a suma does not make the beracha on light at Havdala (Shulchan Aruch, OC 298:13).
However, many sources posit that the beracha is on the light. The p’sukim on the creation of the sun and moon stress the moon’s light-giving attribute (see Bereishit 1:14-18). In fact, the Rama (OC 426:1) says we must do Kiddush Levana late enough to not only see the moon but also benefit from its light. Even the Maharshal, who obligates a suma, requires benefit in terms of time and possibly place, just that not each person needs to personally benefit directly.
A few questions may hinge on how fundamental to the beracha the light or the benefit from it is. If it is like other berachot on seeing elements of nature and praising Hashem for creation (which the Rambam ibid implies), it would not seem critical that if, subsequently, during the beracha, it is covered (compare to the beracha on thunder/lightning). If the beracha is on receiving benefit from the light, it is more likely to need to continue throughout (see two opinions in Be’ur Halacha to 426:1). The accepted opinion is that one should believe it will last throughout the main beracha (until … mechadesh chodashim), but if one started, he can continue. There is also a machloket in the other direction, when there is enough light to benefit, but the moon is not clearly visible (see Shut R. Yaakov MiLisa, OC 7).
Arguably, the beracha’s nature might impact on a variation of your case – if the one who saw the moon made the beracha also intending to do so on behalf of those who did not. The beracha was valid due to the sighting, but the benefit did not extend to the one who listened. (The possibility of someone making the beracha and including a suma in it may be instructive – see Yabia Omer IX, OC 94 – whether or not it is a proof is beyond our scope.)