WHAT A DAY!
The first mitzvah in the Torah given to the Jewish people is Rosh Chodesh, the mitzvah to sanctify the months, beginning with the month of Nissan. It is logical that this should be the first mitzvah, since according to many, we became a nation on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Nissan, just two weeks before the exodus from Egypt.
The first mitzvah in the Torah given to the Jewish people is Rosh Chodesh, the mitzvah to sanctify the months, beginning with the month of Nissan. It is logical that this should be the first mitzvah, since according to many, we became a nation on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Nissan, just two weeks before the exodus from Egypt. Since that day, every Rosh Chodesh holds a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people. The first of the month in our lunar cycle means that the moon continues its succession with a new beginning. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century leader of German Jewry, elegantly explains the concept of the new moon as a symbol for the Jewish people, saying, "Each time the moon finds the sun again, each time the moon receives its ray of light afresh, Hashem wants his people to find Him again and to be illuminated with fresh rays of His light."
This concept of new beginnings is found again with regard to the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which was to be completed on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, exactly one year after the day that we became a nation. Rabbi Hirsch continues to expound on the significance of the day. The establishment of the Mishkan meant the first time that the glory of Hashem would find a permanent resting place here on earth. Again, this first day of the month brings a message of rejuvenation and renewal to the people of Israel, and through the Jewish people it should be conveyed to the other nations of the world.
The great significance of Rosh Chodesh lies in the fact that Hashem gave it over to be solely established by the Jewish people. Unlike Shabbat which automatically comes every seven days at a specific and constant time, Rosh Chodesh is fixed by the testimony of witnesses who saw the "new moon". Even though the Jewish courts knew exactly when the new month began, they would not pronounce it until witnesses had proven the facts. This law extends to the point that even if the representatives erred or intentionally misled the people, we go by their testimony. If it is found out that the first day of the month was declared on the "wrong" day, we nevertheless will keep our holidays based upon the resulting calculations. This fundamental concept is derived from the verse, "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months" (Exodus 12:2). The seemingly extra words "for you" teach us that the establishment of the new months is to be fixed by us, not the heavens. Therefore, if there is an error in the original fixation, it is binding.
From the connection between the historical completion of the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh and the laws relating to the establishment of the day, we get an insight into the significance of the first day of each month. Rosh Chodesh is the day of our beginnings as a nation, a day of initiation of the glory of Hashem resting with His people. We must realize that the day can only be established by our testimony, our efforts. The Hebrew word "chodesh - month" stems from the same root as the word "chadash - new". Every month brings the chance of renewal, but it is only in our hands to take this opportunity and turn it into reality.
Jonathan Fisher, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem.
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