The People of Israel are a new beginning, as it is written, "Israel is consecrated to the Compassionate One, the beginning of His harvest" ((Jeremiah 2:3).
Torah - the Divine Teaching - is a new beginning, as in the chapter of Proverbs where the Torah speaks, she says, "The Compassionate One made me as the beginning of His way" (Proverbs 8:22).
During our last days in Egypt, we were anticipating the journey to the Mountain where we would receive the Divine Teaching which would enable us to enter the Promised Land. The new moon of the first month of spring had arrived, and the Liberating One conveyed to us through Moses and Aaron the following message:
"This renewal of the moon shall be for you a beginning of new moons; it shall be for you the first among the months of the year." (Exodus 12:2)
We are to consider the first month of spring to be the first of the months of the year; moreover, there is an additional meaning to the words, "This renewal of the moon shall be for you a beginning." According to our tradition, these words are also revealing that each new moon is to be a new beginning. As the classical commentator, Rashi, explains, the Liberating One is saying to us, "When the moon renews itself, it will be the beginning of the month for you." It is therefore relevant to mention that the Hebrew word for month, chodesh, is related to the Hebrew word chadash – new.
According to our tradition, the above verse is the source of the mitzvah to establish a calendar and to announce to the nation the arrival of each new moon. The responsibility of this mitzvah was given to the highest court of the Land, whose members were leading sages who also served as teachers for our people. This mitzvah is known as "Kiddush HaChodesh" - the Sanctification of the New Moon. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains in his commentary on the above verse, this mitzvah is to remind us of our potential for spiritual renewal.
Why was it necessary for the sages on the highest court to be involved in this process? When the highest court publicly proclaimed to the nation the arrival of the New Moon, it reminded us that the New Moon is to also inspire our "social" renewal. We are to be reborn not only as individuals, but as a community. And Rabbi Hirsch offers the following insight: Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too, the Community of Israel is to develop a society which reflects the Divine light.
Rabbi Hirsch also explains that according to the pagan culture of ancient Egypt, human beings were not free to renew themselves; they were to remain prisoners of their "fate"; thus, a slave would always remain a slave. For within this culture, we find the belief that the world always existed and that the world endures in a cyclical pattern with no real change or newness. In addition, there was the related belief in natural godlike forces controlling the physical world and human destiny according to a predetermined and unchangeable pattern. This led to the view that each human being was born into a certain caste, and he and his descendants remain in this caste for all eternity. As a result, there were no free spirits in Egypt, for each person viewed himself as "locked" into a certain caste with a predetermined destiny - a life of servitude to Pharaoh.
At the dawn of our liberation of Egypt, the Liberating One told us to proclaim to the "Pharaohs" of the world a different message. As Rabbi Hirsch writes:
"Thus in the land of the most consistent paganism, where this pagan rigidity reached into the social structure of the state itself, creating the chains of the Egyptian caste system, God called the future leaders of His people, showed them the crescent of the moon struggling to emerge from darkness to new light, and said: 'This is to be your model.' Just as the moon renews itself by the laws of nature, so you, too, should renew yourselves, but of your own free will. Each time the new moon appears, let it remind you to effect your own free-willed rejuvenation. And as I renew you, and you renew yourselves, you shall pass like the moon across the night sky of the nations and, wherever you go, proclaim the teaching of the new beginning." (Commentary to Exodus 12:1-2)
Through the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon, we are reminded that human beings have the freedom to make a new beginning!
The story of Israel is the story of a people that experiences rebirth and renewal after experiencing death and destruction. And historians have been amazed that we, as a people, are still here! In fact, the British historian, Arnold Toynbee, felt that our survival contradicted the laws of history, and he derisively described us as, "fossils of history." He failed to understand that the story of Israel is the story of rebirth, and that this story of rebirth represents the human story. As the Compassionate One proclaimed to Pharaoh: "My firstborn child is Israel" (Exodus 4:22), and as Rabbi Hirsch explains, "With Israel, the womb of humanity will be opened."
At a later stage of our history, the Compassionate One reminded us that the rebirth of the world and our own rebirth are connected:
"For behold, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; the former troubles will no longer be recalled and will not be taken to heart. Only rejoice and be happy forever for what I am creating; for behold, I am recreating Jerusalem as Gladness, and its people as Joy." (Isaiah 65:17,18)
"New heavens and a new earth" - The Compassionate One will renew the vitality of the atmosphere and the earth; thus, human beings will live healthy and long lives. (Commentary of the Ibn Ezra)
According to the sacred calendar of our people, today is Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the first day of the month of Nisan, which is also known as "the Month of Spring." Nisan was the month of our first new beginning, and it is the month for our future new beginning in the messianic age, as the Talmud states in the name of Rabbi Joshua:
"In Nisan, Israel was redeemed, and in Nisan, they will be redeemed in the future." (Rosh Hashana 11a)
May we be blessed with a "Chodesh Tov" – a Good Month. And may this month become the month of the final redemption – the new beginning for Israel and the world.
Have a Shabbat Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen