Rabbi Moshe TravitskyThe writer founded the Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center outside Philadelphia and serves as Rosh Kollel of the Bensalem Community Kollel.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the beginning of the Jewish month of Nissan at first glance may seem to be of little significance. Twelve times a year we mark Rosh Chodesh, as a new Jewish month starts. Is Nissan any different than the other 11 months of the year?
Yet, our Sages tell us something very unique about the month of Nissan. They tell us that just as our first redemption from Egypt occurred in Nissan, so too our final redemption will be in Nissan, when the messiah comes. This month is the month of Redemption. Something in the message of Rosh Chodesh Nissan gives us the potential to be redeemed. What is that message?
What put us into exile in the first place, and what is the power that takes us out? The Torah tells us that the enslavement of the Jewish people began, when “A new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph”. Our Sages tell us, that in fact this king was not physically new, and in reality he knew Joseph very well. The description of him being ”new”, and not knowing Joseph, is merely a reflection of his attitude.
The old policy of respect and decency towards Joseph and his people was out. The “new” policy, of persecution and subjugation of the Jews, was in.
The rabbinic commentaries teach us to understand this on a deeper level. When we serve G-d, when we do commandments, there’s the physical act we do. However, any mitzvah, any good deed, does not end there. There is the attitude, the feeling and emotion, that we put into our relationship with G-d.
Is my prayer, my act of kindness, or my study of Torah just a repeat of something I did yesterday? Or there a vibrancy, energy, freshness, and excitement, in the way I am serving Hashem.
When we do mitzvahs properly – we have that freshness and that attitude of being “new”. When we lose it, when we feel like there no meaning in what we are doing, just actions that we do by rote, then the freshness is given to others. G-d sends other nations like Pharaoh who develop their own “new attitudes” and “new approaches “ to the Jews. We end up being subjugated and persecuted.
Rosh Chodesh represents rebirth: The month starts over. What happened in the past happened – but now we are starting fresh. When the Jewish people received the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we got a lot more than a day to celebrate: We got a chance to start fresh. Maybe in the past we lost the right attitude of how to serve G-d – but on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the first month, we started anew. With that attitude, we had the merit to leave the servitude of Egypt, and to emerge as free people, serving our Creator.
If we think about new attitudes this Nissan, there is a lot to think about. The Jewish people in America clearly need a “new” direction, if we are going to survive as a people.
When the Pew report tells us that most American Jews are intermarrying, and will disappear within one or two generations as Jews, there is a clear need for a “new” approach.
When Rabbis are scared to tell their congregations that the right thing to do is to marry another Jew, that intermarriage is wrong, that we are a proud people who were chosen by G-d to bring His message to the world, then something is very wrong.
Clearly the old approach of watering down Judaism to our congregants, of telling them that they can do whatever they want and still be good Jews, is not working – and not true. The wake-up call that should be emerging from this Pew report has yet to be heard. It’s clearly time for a new approach – of telling it the way it is.
We need make no apologies for the Almighty. He has clearly told us what He expects of us – and we have to follow His direction. The old notion that we can’t tell our youth what is expected of them, has to change. We have to develop a new attitude, recognizing the greatness in every Jewish boy and girl, in every Jewish man and woman, and telling them what the Almighty really wants from them.
With a new approach let’s hope that this Nissan will herald in a new era of redemption and relief, as all Jews return to their Creator and unite to serve Him together.
[Rabbi Moshe Travitsky is the founder of the Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center outside Philadelphia and the Rosh Kollel of the Bensalem Community Kollel. For more information please visit: www.BensalemOutreach.org]