This week, in addition to the weekly sidrah (Tazria), we read parshas HaChodesh, and conclude the cycle of the four parshiyos. This coming Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and it was with regard to the month of Nissan that we were first taught the laws of the new moon. Moshe at first had some difficulty understanding the new moon, until Hashem showed him it in the sky. “Do you see how it looks now? This is the way it should look when you sanctify the new moon.” It seems strange that Moshe, who experienced no difficulty understanding even the most complex passages of the Torah, would have difficulty understanding the concept of a new moon.
The Jewish calendar is based on the moon cycle. The secular calendar, in contrast, is based on the sun. While the sun has a yearly cycle, the moon has only a monthly one. There is no yearly moon cycle. Since the sun completes its revolution once every 365 days, we just adjust the Jewish “year” by giving it either 12 months (354 days) or 13 months (383 days), to keep it more-or-less in sync with the sun’s cycle, since the sun determines the weather, seasons, etc. The Torah sets out that we must count things according to the moon when it states, “HaChodesh ha-zeh lachem rosh chadashim/This month will be to you the beginning of all months. (Shemos/Exodus 12:2)” Why does the Torah insist we calibrate our calendars according to the moon, as opposed to the sun, whose consistent yearly cycle seems to provide a more convenient way of keeping things in order?
The concept of teshuva (repentance) is so critical to Torah observance that it was “created” before the Universe’s creation. Without the ability to cleanse ourselves from sin and misdeeds and start anew, we would be doomed to slowly descend into depression and depravity, sin by sin, from the very moment we committed our first iniquity.
Even so, like dirty dishes, the longer we allow the “grime” of sin to pile up, the more difficult and daunting the dream of true repentance becomes. Sometimes, says R’ Naftuli Tzvi of Ropshitz zt”l, we feel so entrapped by our habits that we despair of ever succeeding in changing for the better. What is one to do if he feels so surrounded by darkness that it seems there’s no way the light of the Torah can possibly penetrate?
This is one of the reasons the Torah insists we recall the Exodus from Egypt daily. Aside from expressing our appreciation to Hashem, it allows us to mull over the fact that our ancestors in Egypt, according to Chazal (our Sages) had, before their redemption, descended to the deepest depths of sin and weakness – they even worshipped idols – yet it was from this very same darkness that the Almighty took them out and gave them a fresh start. Not too long afterward, He gave us the Torah. It’s tremendously reassuring to think that one can never fall too far. It’s not to say that we should ever allow ourselves to slip. But since at some point everyone will, we need this daily reminder that there’s always hope that the bright light of the Torah can still illuminate our lives no matter how dark things seem. The Gates of Teshuvah are never locked.
This is alluded to, he says, in the Friday night Kiddush: Techilah le-mikra’ei kodesh zeicher le-yetzias mitzrayim – mikraei kodesh refers to the one who “hears the call” of sanctity beckoning; i.e. his heart is consumed with regret over his sins and pangs of teshuvah. He feels overcome by the depressing realization of how far he has fallen and the distance he must now traverse in order to come back, and is perhaps ready to give up before he starts. He need only remind himself: zeicher le-yetzias mitzrayim – of our humble beginnings when we left Egypt. Who could have dreamed then how far we’d come in such a short period!
In two short weeks we will be sitting around our dining room tables at the Pesach Seder. One of the underpinnings of the seder is the obligation to tell the story of the Exodus in the first-person, “as if we ourselves were there. Since we recall yetzias Mitzrayim not only in praise of the past, but as a reminder that it’s never too late nor too far, it is critical that our experience that night not be one of nostalgia but one that speaks to us today. We too can experience “freedom” – from the vices that sometimes seem to have us so firmly in their grips. [Kedushas Tzion]
The Hebrew word for month is Chodesh. The root of chodesh is chadash – new or renewal. Because our beginnings, and our ongoing existence, is so deeply connected with renewal from darkness to light, it is only fitting that our calendar function by the cycle of the moon.
The Hebrew word for year is Shana. Shana means to review and recycle again and again, without any change at all. While the sun’s bright light is a consistent one, it lacks the potential for renewal from even the bleakest of life’s times.
Shlomo Ha-melech (King Solomon) says (Koheles/Ecclesiastes 1:9), “There is nothing new beneath the sun!” For those who exist under the dominion of the sun, there is indeed nothing new. For a nation guided by the moon, “Who will in the future renew themselves as she does (liturgy of Sanctification of the New Moon),” there is a chance to start anew every month, every day, every hour, and every moment. (Nesivos Shalom)
What Moshe had such difficulty understanding is this: Why set the tone of Jewish life by establishing its calendar according to the moon, which reverts to darkness monthly, instead of the sun with its bright consistent shine?
But the Torah and our calendar are established by the lightness/darkness cycle of the moon to stress this very point. Just as the moon emerges from complete darkness each month to shine just as brightly as ever, every Jew has the ability to convert the darkness in his own life, and that of others, into a bright shining light. All we have to do is open up a tiny hole in our hearts to let the first rays of light fall upon us. Like the new moon, once the initial light finds its place, it’s only a matter of time and patience before we can once again shine fully. In Hashem’s words, “When it looks like this, it should be sanctified!” (Likutei Kerem Shlomo)
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week’s publication has been sponsored by Mrs. Jennifer Hoffmann, in loving memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Barney and Judy Davidoff, may their souls rest in peace. ****** Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org