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Parshas Bo:
The New Moon

By Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller

...This month will be for you the beginning of all months (Sh'mos 12:2)

    The first practical mitzvah given to the Jewish people was the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month. Upon receiving testimony from two acceptable witnesses that they had observed the renewal of the moon, the court would state that the new month had begun. This served as the basis of the Jewish calendar (with some adjustments to reconcile the lunar and solar calendars).

At first glance it seems that this mitzvah is simply ceremonial, since the new month will commence whether the court sanctifies it or not. In addition, it seems unusual that this is the Torah's choice for the opening mitzvah that G-d gives the Jewish people as they were about to emerge into the world as his nation.

The answer to these questions lies in a very fundamental principle of Judaism. Our nation was created to testify to G-d's greatness in this world. As the prophet Isaiah states "This nation I created for me, they will tell my praises." At the time of the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people stood at the threshold of a great change. They would cease to be a family, internally dedicated to G-d's work, and become a nation that would change the face of humanity.

To achieve our task as Jews we must overcome two major obstacles: A. The mundane veneer and materialistic glamor of the world in which we live. B. The inevitable failures that lie in the path of man, no matter how great. As our history progresses, we can see the triumphs and failures we have experienced, both on the personal and on the communal level. This ongoing struggle can discourage us to the point that we abandon any hope for accomplishing our duty in this world.

Both concerns are addressed in the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, the sanctification of the new moon. We are commanded to take a physical and most predictable phenomenon and to give it spiritual meaning. When G-d created the celestial lights, the stated purpose was to "..be as markers for the holidays and the passage of days and years."(Breishis1:12) It is only secondary that they serve as a source of light and energy to earth. When we gaze into the heavens and see the renewal of the moon, we state that we understand and accept that G-d's wisdom is infinitely broader then ours and that his purposes for physical phenomena are much deeper than our understanding. Rabbi S.R.Hirsch adds that this is the idea of holidays in Jewish thought. The term "Moed" or meeting is the Torah view of holidays. It is the time we take to renew our spiritual selves by "meeting" with G-d and celebrating our commitment to his service. Here again we accomplish this by celebrating both physically and spiritually, as we observe all of our holidays both with specific mitzvos and the physical enjoyment of Yom Tov. In this harmonious coexistence of body and spirit, we can achieve the goal that we are destined to fulfill.

Another facet of this mitzvah is the realization that as often as we fail, we can continue to strive for greatness and achievement. Just as the moon waxes and wanes every month and goes from a position of darkness to bask in the energy and light of the sun, we too experience the ups and downs in the road of life and continue to march on. We make this point in the blessing made upon viewing the new moon,"..to the moon he commanded that she renew herself as a crown of glory to the chosen ones that will be renewed in the future to give glory to their creator." This cycle of triumph and failure is not an imperfection in the creation. It is the divine blueprint for the ultimate triumph of light over darkness and the foundation of the utopian world for which we all are striving.

(Adapted from the writings of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch by Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller)

 

Published and Thursday, January 29, 1998 by the Chicago Community Kollel

 

If you have any questions or comments about this week's Parsha Encounters please email Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller asmoller@cckollel.org

 

 

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