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This is your monthThis month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Shemos 12:2)
Moshe showed the new moon to Yisroel and said to them, This is what you will see and fix this as the halacha for generations (Mechilta).
Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt"l, the Alter from Slobodka (Ohr Hatzafon) makes a very startling observation about this possuk. He writes, that upon making this statement, Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave over the determination of the months and the times of the holidays to Klal Yisroel. This concept is repeated in Vayikra (23:37), "These are the holidays of Hashem which you will proclaim to be holy gatherings." As the Yalkut Shimoni (191) explains, "If you proclaim it - then it is a holiday, and if not, it is not a holiday."
The Mishna and Gemara in Rosh Hashana (25) relates that Rabbi Yehoshua wanted to determine Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the month of Tishre) differently from Rabban Gamliel. Rabban Gamliel sent him a message, "I order you to come to me with your staff and money pouch on the day which you have determined should be Yom Kippur!" Rabbi Akiva found Rabbi Yehoshua sitting low-spirited. Rabbi Akiva told him, "I can explain to you how, in spite of your calculations, still, everything that Rabban Gamliel did is justified. The Torah declares, 'These are the holidays of Hashem which you will proclaim….'
Whether or not it comes out at the calculated time, I only have these holidays."
The Yalkut Shimoni (191) relates a similar thought. "The Administering Angels gather around Hakadosh Baruch Hu and ask him, 'Master of the Universe, when is Rosh Hashana?' He answers back to them, 'You're asking me? Both you and I must ask the Beis Din down below!'"
We see from all this that the calendar is determined by Klal Yisroel. Whatever they determine is binding, so to speak, even on Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself; even He cannot change it. True, the possuk states "And God said, Let there be illuminating bodies in the firmament of the Heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years" (Bereishis 1:14). And this is repeated in Tehillim (104:19), "He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knows its setting time." Nevertheless, the final determination has been given over to Yisroel; whatever they decide is the right time.
The Torah gave over to the Beis Din the capacity to change the order of Creation. Chazal (Mechilta, Parshas Bo) state that originally, Adam (and, according to one version, even the Forefathers) counted the months according to the solar calendar. Suddenly the Torah comes and commands Yisroel to count according to the Moon and change the entire system of the calendar. Moreover, whatever they determine is the halacha. If the Beis Din declares that the month has been consecrated, even though astronomically it is erroneous, but that is the New Moon. It does not matter whether they erred out of a mistake or even intentionally, we count the months and determine the festivals accordingly.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11) declares that the same is true regarding determining the beginning of the year. "Rabbi Eliezer said that the world was created in Tishre." If so, the Jewish year should start in Tishre. And here we have the Torah giving us the Halacha that we count the months of the year from Nissan: "it shall be the first month of the year to you." They even have the right, and obligation, to add months to the year to make sure that Pesach falls out in the Spring: "Guard the month of the Spring" (Devorim 16:1) (Sanhedrin 13). And this is all left up to the discretion of the Beis Din. If they decide to add a month, then the new year starts later and the holidays and future years are counted accordingly.
This jurisdiction over the calendar by Klal Yisroel is not only limited to determination of calendar dates; it even has the power to actually change nature. If the Beis Din added a day to the month or a month to the year and pushed off the calculation of the months of the year, then the date of the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah changes accordingly: the child does not mature until the determined date. It can even result in a bizarre scenario. A younger child can reach bar mitzvah before his older cousin. For example, if they were born in a leap year, one child at the end of the first Adar, and the younger one at the beginning of the second Adar, then, if their bar mitzvah falls out in a regular year, the younger child becomes bar mitzvah before his older cousin. The gemara cites other examples of nature changing according to the Beis Din's determination of the calendar. There are many instances where the Beis Din makes a decision and Hakadosh Baruch Hu agrees.
The Drashos Haran (Drush 3) takes this concept even further. Rashi (Breishis 1:1) comments that the first mitzvah given to Klal Yisroel was the mitzvah of the New Moon. Why was specifically this mitzvah chosen? The Ran elucidates that this shows the remarkable place Klal Yisroel have in Creation. The entire determination of halachos has been taken away from Heaven and given over to the Beis Din. The Gemara in Bava Metzia (59) relates a remarkable incident: The Mishna (Keilim 5:10) discusses an oven which R. Eliezer makes clean (Tahor) and the sages unclean (Tamei), and it is the oven of a snake. Why was it called the oven of a snake? Said R. Yehudah in the name of Shmuel: It indicates that they encircled it with their halachic proofs as a snake winds itself around an object. The gemara then cites a Braisa stating that R. Eliezer rejoined to the Chachomim scores of answers to his opinion and yet they were not accepted. Finally he said to them: Let this carob-tree prove that the Halacha prevails as I state, and the carob was (miraculously) thrown off to a distance of one hundred amos (50 ft.), and according to others four hundred amos (200 ft.). But they said: The carob proves nothing. He again said: "Let, then, the spring of water prove that the Halacha is like me." The water then began to flow backwards. But again the sages said that this proved nothing. He again said: "Then, let the walls of the Beis Midrash prove that I am right." The walls started to collapse. R. Yehoshua, however, berated them, saying: "If the scholars of this Beis Midrash are discussing a Halacha, why should you interfere!" The walls did not fall, for the honor of R. Yehoshua, but they did not become again straight, for the honor of R. Eliezer [and they are still in the same condition, half leaning, but not falling].
He said again: Let it be announced by the Heavens that the Halacha prevails according to my opinion, and a Heavenly voice was heard, saying: "Why do you quarrel with R. Eliezer, who is always right in his decisions!" R. Yehoshua then arose and proclaimed [Devorim 30:12]: "The Law is not in Heaven." The Gemara then asks how is this possuk to be understood? R. Jeremiah said: It means, the Torah was already given to us on the mountain of Sinai, and we do not care for a Heavenly voice, as it reads [Shemos 23: 2]: "The halacha is based upon the majority." R. Nosson met Eliyahu (the Prophet) and questioned him: "What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do at that time?" (when R. Yehoshua proclaimed the above answer to the Heavenly voice). He answered, "He laughed and said, My children have overruled me, my children have overruled me."
Rav Nosson Tzvi concludes that it is very appropriate that this possuk has been made the subject of the Torah reading right before the month of Nissan, which is the beginning of the spring recess in the yeshivos. We must resist the tendency to slacken off in our learning during this busy time period of Pesach preparations. This is the beginning of the Jewish year, the first of the months. The determination of the beginning of the month of Nissan fixes the date of the coming Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This is a time to demonstrate our dedication to the Torah. Just like during the plague of darkness in Mitzrayim all the Jews had light, so too, in this time when darkness reigns over mankind, the Jews enjoy the light of Torah through their steadfastness and diligence in their learning. In this way we cause the light of Torah to dissipate all the clouds of darkness which cover the world.
* * * Rav Sholom Shwadron (Sha'al Avicha Vayageidcha, v. II p. 37) relates an incident that happened many years ago. In Denver, Colorado there lived a Ger Tzeddek who, besides being a wonderful person, was also a renowned talmid chochom. Rav Sholom was once escorted on his way to Brooklyn by a yungerman from Monsey who told him this man's story. This yungerman had studied as chavrusa with the Ger, and so knew firsthand the remarkable history of how he came to convert to Judaism and how he won his court case and gained a lifeltime pension which enabled him to dedicate his life to Torah.
Before his conversion, he had served in the United States Armed Forces in the Second World War. He was severely wounded by shrapnel that had caused brain damage. Due to his injury he was discharged as an invalid with a monthly disability allowance. Every few months he had to go to the base to be checked by a doctor to determine his condition and his entitlement to the military disability payments.
During his convalescence he started to contemplate his existence and the emptiness he was feeling. He sought some meaning in his life and so tried many different religions. Finally he studied Judaism and decided to convert. After the conversion he wanted to know more about his new religion and started learning in a yeshiva. Within a short time he became fully integrated into the yeshiva and passionately applied himself to learning full time. It didn't take long before he began to feel a very noticeable improvement in his health and finally he realized that he had fully recovered.
The next time he went for the regular medical examination at the army base, the doctor determined that he was perfectly healthy and could go out to work. He was no longer entitled to his disability allowance.
There was a problem, though. He wanted to continue learning in yeshiva, so how would he support himself? Therefore he decided to appeal the decision. He was sent to a different doctor. But he, too, determined that he was perfectly healthy and would have to support himself. Nevertheless he was not defeated and submitted yet another appeal. Finally he reached a high military tribunal headed by a general. The judge argued to the young man, "Listen, you've been through all the lower courts, and you've been checked out by numerous physicians. Everyone has determined that you are perfectly healthy. In spite of all this, you still insist that you are entitled to a disability allowance? This request is totally unwarranted and unjustifiable. You just want to squeeze money out of the…..
The young man immediately interjected, "But I'm not working and I need financial support."
"What do you do?" asked the judge.
"I study in a yeshiva."
"And what do you learn there?"
"I learn Torah," the young man answered.
"What's Torah?" asked the general.
"I'm learning in order to be a talmid chochom!" was his reply.
Surprisingly, this phrase elicited a positive response from the judge. As soon as he heard the word "talmid chochom" his face lit up and he started to smile. "Oh, so you're learning to be a talmid chochom? I want to tell you something. During the war I commanded a submarine. Once we were on a mission and remained submerged for an extended period of time. We were in enemy territory and had absolutely no opportunity to surface and disembark. All the sailors were in a depressed state of mind. Every day I tried to break my head and think of ways to give them some sort of entertainment to raise their spirits. "During that time there were three Jewish sailors on board. I noticed that they were always happy. I couldn't for the life of me understand why. Everyone else was depressed, and they were happy. Once I passed their bunk and heard them singing. That really floored me. Not only are they happy, but they're singing? I knocked on their door. One of them opened it for me. I entered their room and saw them sitting by a table with books open in front of them. I asked them what they were singing and what were those books. They answered me that they were studying in order to become a talmid chochom!"
The general decided the case positively with the following rationale. "Yes, you are now healthy. But once you were a soldier and were very sick. Now you want to become a talmid chochom. I authorize you a lifetime allowance. Sit in the yeshiva and truly learn to become a talmid chochom!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network