TIME IS IN OUR HANDS
Appended to the end of this week's Torah portion is a special reading entitled Parshat Hachodesh, the fourth and final in a series of special additions which began just over a month ago. Each of these portions plays a role in helping us understand the festival seasons of Purim and Passover.
Appended to the end of this week's Torah portion is a special reading entitled Parshat Hachodesh, the fourth and final in a series of special additions which began just over a month ago. Each of these portions plays a role in helping us understand the festival seasons of Purim and Passover. Although the message is somewhat difficult to discover in some of the additions, Parshat Hachodesh appears simple enough to decipher. The reading begins with the declaration that the Hebrew month of Nissan, and not Tishrei, is to be considered the first month of the year. The passage then continues with some of the mitzvot of Passover, which are certainly appropriate to be read and studied as the holiday approaches. But is that all there is to it? Why did the rabbis select this particular reading - there are many more laws and mitzvot of Passover which are not included in this passage? What is so special about this excerpt that we must study it in preparation for Passover?
Another question: Our sages explain that the opening words of this passage, "This month shall be to you the head of the months" (Exodus 12:2), is the source for the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, the sanctification of the new moon. At the beginning of each month, the High Court in Jerusalem is to declare, by testimony of witnesses, the onset of the new month. The commentators point out that this is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, even before the mitzvot of the Passover festival. Why couldn't this mitzvah wait until the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai when all of the other commandments were given? Why did it have to be presented before the exodus while the Jews were still in Egypt?
One final question: The Jewish people had been slaves in Egypt for over 200 years. Now suddenly they are instructed to revolt against their masters. Not only must they roast the Egyptian god as the korban Pesach (Paschal lamb) in full sight of Egyptian eyes, but they are instructed to march out of Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth, right under the Egyptians' noses. What gives the Jews such mental strength to overcome their slave mentality and commit such a rebellion? Sure, they have witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues, but they have not, until now, been asked to take any action. How can the Jews feel so confident and have the inner strength to take such bold steps against their former masters?
Perhaps by answering these final two questions we can answer the first question as well. The Jewish people's inner strength came directly from the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh. If we look at this mitzvah carefully, we will see that Kiddush Hachodesh is not simply a formality whereby the High Court makes an announcement and holds a banquet to celebrate the new moon. It is much more than that. Kiddush Hachodesh represents the Jewish people's ability to manipulate and control time itself. If the High Court delays the declaration of the new month by a day, the beginning of the new month is delayed by a day; the new month does not begin until the High Court declares that it begins. The seasons, the holidays, and time itself is placed in the hands of the Jewish people.
For a nation that has been so inculcated by their Egyptian neighbors with the notion that they are subject to the whims of the zodiacal powers, such a mitzvah is mind-boggling. That they should be in control of these forces, and not visa-versa, must have been astounding for the Jews. And yet this is the power which Hashem instills within the Jewish people. Through this mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, the Jewish people learn that fate and destiny is in their hands. They are not powerless against the Egyptians. As implausible as victory may seem, just as they have the power to bend the rules of time, if they follow Hashem's lead then Hashem will bend the normal rules of war. Thus, the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh was essential to the Jewish people even before the exodus to show them that the normal rules of nature are in their hands.
We are instructed in the Hagaddah that on Passover we must view ourselves as if we, too, are leaving Egypt. Although none of us are really enslaved by a Pharaoh, all of us nonetheless have our own circumstances that we think are our masters. We all have areas in our lives in which we would like to improve our service to Hashem, but we feel our hands our tied; we are powerless. We cannot give more tzedakah (charity) because how will we make ends meet. We cannot attend a Torah class because we just do not have the time. Usually, these would be valid arguments, but we must remember that we are not usual people. If we strive to follow Hashem's path, He will bend the normal rules for us. Somehow we will make do even after increasing our contributions to tzedakah; somehow we will have the time even if we attend the Torah classes. Parshat Hachodesh teaches us that we have the power to go above and beyond the usual and routine, that even time itself is in our hands.
Yoel Spotts, is a member of the kollel at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
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