The last of the four special maftirs read around Purim-time and before Pesach is Parashas HaChodesh. This reading was instituted, first of all, because of the importance of the month of Nissan, the first of all months (i.e., we count the years from Tishrei, but we count the months from Nissan, the Rosh HaShanah of the months).
Furthermore, this reading reminded the people (at a time that most were gathered together in shul on Shabbos) that Pesach was fast approaching. Anyone who has ever tried to keep Pesach according to traditional Jewish law knows that even two weeks is not enough preparation; certainly, in Temple times when Jews from all over Israel made a pilgrimmage up to the Temple to slaughter the Pesach-Offering, even more preparation was necessary. Hence, this special reading was a friendly reminder to get the Pesach preparations into "high gear" (and, in our day-and-age, get rid of all that chometzdik Mishloach Manos!!)
But, as some have asked, "Why is it that the holiday that is supposed to bring freedom ends up doing just the opposite?" (There have even been songs written about the toil of Pesach cleaning!) An answer to this question comes from an excerpt from "Redemption to Redemption," Chapter Eight, which explains the centrality of the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon, and how it relates to our being redeemed from Egypt.
The Talmud states:Anyone who blesses the new moon is like one who has received the Shechina, as it says, "HaChodesh HaZeh ..." (i.e., This month ... Shemos 12:2), and it says over there, "Zeh Ailie v'Anveihu (This is My G-d and I will glorify Him) ..." (Shemos 16:2) ... (Sanhedrin 42a)In other words, the Talmud is finding a conceptual connection between Kiddush HaChodesh and revelation, vis-a-vis the usage of the word zeh in both verses. In this sense, the concept of the new month represents the goal of all of Torah and the Jewish nation as a whole.
Why? To begin with, the fact that the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon was the first one given to the Jewish people as they prepared to leave Egypt is very significant. For, this informs every Jew throughout history that embodied in the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh is the basic concept of the Jewish nation and the key to Yetzias Mitzrayim.
As the prophet Yishayah teaches, the Jewish nation left Egypt with a mission, a mission that would only begin by receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai fifty days later. It is mission encapsulated by the time-honored phrase, "a light unto nations."
What does this mission have to do with the moon?
One of main properties of the moon is that it does not create its own light; rather, it reflects the light of the sun. Even during the blackness of night when the sun can no longer be seen, the moon can still gather in hidden rays and reflect them earthward for mankind to find direction in the darkness of night.
The Jewish people are compared to the moon. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too has the Jewish nation cyclically grown and contracted. However, the most important comparison of the Jewish people to the moon is not in terms of its appearance, but rather, in terms of its mission.
Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too are the Jewish people meant to reflect the "light" of God. The "Light unto the Nations" is really a "Reflector" of God's. It is the Jewish nation's role to bring the light of Torah to every last corner on earth. To not fulfill this function is to become "eclipsed," which results in historical darkness, and worse, terrible anti-Semitism.
Hence, it is quite logical and very meaningful that the first mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people should be the sanctification of the new moon once-a-month. What better way is there to remind the Jewish people of the purpose for which they were freed from Mitzrayim? What better way is there to point out to the Jewish people monthly the mission for which they were hand-picked by God, than to have them focus their attention on the new sliver of moon that is fighting to bring light to the darkened sky?
It was the acceptance of this first mitzvah and mission that acted as the spiritual "threshold" across which each Jew in Egypt had to pass to "earn" his or her freedom. The Torah sanctions originality. However, the principles of Torah are fixed-they are axioms of creation, Divine wisdom beyond human reason.
Our job is not to create them, or even recreate them, but to reflect them. Our task is to become committed to understanding them as much as we can, and then perform them to the best of our ability. In this way, the light of Torah becomes increasingly more apparent, and like the moon, reaches a crescendo of light, which, we are promised, will eventually never wane again, as we say during Kiddush Levana:May it be Your will ... to fill the flaw of the moon, that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was, before it was diminished ... (Kiddush Levana)Have a great Shabbos and a Wonderfully Re-Jew-venating Chodesh.
Oh, and, happy Pesach cleaning. Really.
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