Kollel Beis HaTalmud
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Kiddush HaChodesh -Masters of Time
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Sanctifying the new moon and establishing the calendar is the first mitzva that Bnei Yisroel were commanded to observe as a nation. In fact, Rashi's opening remark in his commentary on the Torah is that the Torah should have begun with this mitzva instead of Maaseh Bereishis, the story of creation. Since Hashem created the world so that we may observe His mitzvos, it would have been appropriate to start here.

The importance of this mitzva cannot be emphasised enough. If the new moon was not declared then the calendar would not function. We would then not be able to celebrate the Yomim Tovim which commemorate the foundational events in the history of our people.

There is additional significance to Kiddush HaChodesh. The Seforno interprets the passuk "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months…" (Shemos 12:2) literally. The Jewish people had been enslaved by the Egyptians and their time belonged to their masters. Now they were going free. Their time would be their own. "This month shall be for YOU!". HaRav Gedalyah Shorr zt'l explains an even deeper message contained in these words of the Seforno.

The Sanhedrin were given jurisdiction over establishing the calendar. They could delay the sanctification of the new month and declare a leap year at their discretion. Postponing or advancing Rosh Chodesh and lengthening the year alters when the Yomim Tovim are celebrated. This is why there is a difference between the bracha of Kedushas hayom (the bracha that expresses the holiness of the day) for Shabbos and Yom Tov. On Shabbos we recite Mikadeish Hashabbos, who sanctifies the Shabbos, while on Yom Tov we conclude with Mikadeish Yisrael V'hazmanim, who sanctifies Israel and the festive seasons. Shabbos is always the seventh day. It's Kedusha, sanctity, is fixed in time. However Yom Tov cannot be determined until the Beis Din announces the new moon. It is dependent on the Kedusha of the Jewish nation. And the Beis Din's calculations and decisions affect more than just when the festivals are celebrated. If the Beis Din delays the declaration of Rosh Chodesh or institutes a leap year, natural cycles which are regulated by the passage of time will fall into line with the month and year as they have been declared even though this will be out of synchrony with the actual time (see Yerushalmi, Kesubos 1:2; Shach ,Yoreh Deah 189:13). We see then that those whose lives are guided by the Torah have been given mastery over nature. This is to emphasise that the purpose of creation is the Torah and its observance. Perhaps the mitzva of Kiddush HaChodesh was given first to underline this message, to stress that nature is subservient to Torah and not vice-versa.

There is another lesson that can be learned from this mitzva. The Hebrew word for month is Chodesh, the root of which means new. Every Rosh Chodesh, new month, is a time for reflection and an opportunity to begin anew. Surely if we are able to control time and alter the natural course of events, we can garner the strength necessary to defeat our Yetzer hora and conquer undesirable aspects of our own nature.

The moon itself can also give chizuk (encouragement). At the end of the month, the moon has waned to nothingness. Yet precisely as it disappears, it begins to rejuvenate. So too, when we are down, we still have the capacity to restore our potential. Our aveiros themselves can propel us upwards to reach even greater heights. This we can also learn from the moon. At the beginning of creation, the sun and the moon were equals. Not happy to share the 'limelight', the moon complained. As a result the moon's light was greatly diminished. Moreover, the moon's full radiance would be seen only momentarily in the monthly cycle of waxing and waning. However, as the Toras Chaim notes, it is precisely because of these cycles that we are able to use the moon to calculate the calendar. The diminution of the moon's physical light ultimately led to its elevation in status as an essential component of Torah observance. The same applies to us. We might sometimes feel that our personal "light" has faded. Yet if we yearn to improve and indeed begin to make amends for past wrongs, our aveiros become the vehicles for rekindling a more meaningful light and in this way, they actually become mitzvos.

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Jerusalem, Israel