NEW YEAR'S DAY
"This month shall be for you the first of the months" (Exodus 12:2).
"This month shall be for you the first of the months" (Exodus 12:2). It is logical that when we count the years, we should mark their beginning on the day of the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs on the first day of the month of Tishrei, the day that Hashem created Man. Yet, in this week's Torah portion we are commanded that the first month of the year should not be Tishrei, but Nissan which is six months later. What is so special about the month of Nissan that it should be reckoned as the first month of the Hebrew calendar? Furthermore, why doesn't the Torah ever mention Nissan by name? In fact, we do not find anywhere in the Torah any month called by its name. What is the underlying reason for this?
The Ramban, one of the leading Torah commentators of the Middle Ages, explains that the Torah is teaching us the importance of remembering our history. With an outstretched arm, Hashem took us out of Egypt. This exodus showed the entire world the unfathomable strength and glory of Hashem. We are commanded to begin our year with the month of the exodus to provide us with a constant reminder of this miraculous event. Counting the months therefore provides a reminder of the exodus, for we will enumerate this month as being the eleventh month since the exodus.
We find a similar idea with regard to Shabbat. Every Friday evening in the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service, we describe Shabbat as being "sof ma'aseh bemachshava techilah - last in [Hashem's] deed, but first in thought." In order for us to prepare ourselves properly for Shabbat, we must remember its supreme importance in the grand scheme. For this reason, every morning when we say the psalm of the day at the end of Shacharit, we introduce the special psalm by saying, "Today is the blank day in the Shabbat (the word Shabbat is used here to mean week)," reminding us that today only has purpose in that it was created for Shabbat.
There still remains a question. Why is it that nowhere in the Torah do we find the months mentioned by name? The answer to this question lies in our history. At the time of the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian exile, the months had no special names. During this exile, the Jewish people fell under the rule of the Persians, and we began to call the months by their Persian names. When Hashem returned us to the land of Israel, allowing us to rebuild the Temple, it was a tremendous miracle. Our sages felt that it was important to commemorate this miracle. Therefore, they enacted that the months should retain the names we used for them under Persian rule. So now when we count the months, it reminds us of two miracles, the exodus from Egypt and our redemption from the Babylonian exile. Today is the tenth day of Shevat, the eleventh month since the exodus.
David Shleifer, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
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