Rejuvenation of relationships: Parshat Hachodesh

In the beginning Hashem created the world for everyone. But He charged us with teaching other nations that the world is not just a physical entity, but that it is infused with a spiritual soul.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

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Young women study Torah
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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The last of the four special Parshiot we read as we approach Pesach is Parshat Hachodesh. We read it either when we bless the New Moon or on Rosh Chodesh itself when Rosh Chodesh coincides with Shabbat. This reading includes the very first mitzvah Hashem commanded the Jewish people as a nation, even preceding the bringing of korban Pesach, the Pascal sacrifice. On this order, Rabbi Schwab raises some very simple questions.  First, what is so fundamental about this mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon that it even preempts the mitzvah of korban Pesach? We must assume that there is some connection to the redemption itself. Further, why designate a special Shabbat for reading about this mitzvah in the Shabbat services?

The Slonimer Rebbe, the Netivot Shalom, presents the idea that indeed this Shabbat and sanctifying this new moon have a connection to Pesach. But the Netivot Shalom goes one step further. He compares these first two weeks of the month of Nissan to the first two weeks of the New Year. As such, the first ten days correspond to the Ten Days of Repentance culminating in Yom Kippur and the day we prepare our Pascal sacrifice. Four days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate Sukkot, a time of deep love and intimacy between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel. Similarly, we begin our Pesach Seder after four days as a celebration and commemoration of Hashem’s tremendous love for us in redeeming us from Egypt. In fact, notes the Netivot Shalom, the Seder night is a time not just for the child at the table to “ask” the Mah Nishtanah of his father, but it is also a time when God’s child within each of us can ask our Father for His help or to reverse a negative decree. But we need to prepare ourselves for this encounter with Hakodosh Boruch Hu starting with Rosh Chodesh Nissan, just as we prepare ourselves from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to enter the Sukkah with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

We know that the moon does not shine its own light as the sun does, but rather reflects the light of the sun. This perhaps provides much of the underlying philosophy behind our following a lunar based calendar while the rest of the world follows a solar based calendar. Just as the moon depends on the light of the sun for its significance, so too do Bnei Yisroel depend on the Great Light of Hakodosh Boruch Hu to give us purpose and existence, writes Rabbi Eliyahu Roth in Sichot Eliyahu. Rosh Chodesh reminds us of this mission, and is therefore the first of the Mitzvoth. Everything in life, even the mundane (for Rosh Chodesh is not a full holiday) can serve as a means to reflect God’s presence on earth. It is for this reason that the first blessing at a wedding is that Hashem created everything for His glory, and only after that do we bless Him for created Man. A new couple must build their home on the premise that they build it first and foremost as a testament to Hashem’s glory. Everything within that home, and indeed everything outside it, is a vehicle for revealing God’s presence, whether it’s making a blessing over a glass of water or complimenting a server or clerk for a job well done. God can be found everywhere, even in the wood of a bench, writes Rabbi Friefeld.

The Gemara notes that whoever blesses the new moon in its appropriate time, it is as if he is greeting the very presence of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Rabbi Schwab explains this idea. The world usually runs in predictable ways. We expect the sun to rise every morning and set every evening. The challenge for us is that because it is all so predictable, we tend to forget that it is all in Hashem’s control. We tend to pay attention when things stop following the normal routine. The moon, through its constant changes, reminds us that Hashem is always in control even when His hand is concealed. The only difference between hidden and overt miracles is the extent of our understanding.

Rosh Chodesh signifies renewal and new beginnings, and Rosh Chodesh Nissan, since it is so close to the rebirth of our people and our witnessing how God can control and change nature itself, notes Rabbi Leff, is the paradigmatic New Moon signaling a day for a new beginning, repentance and atonement. This idea is then carried through to every Rosh Chodesh, albeit with less fanfare.

But renewal is not limited to nature, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah. The message of Rosh Chodesh is that we can renew ourselves as well and we can prepare ourselves again to receive God and His Torah. The whole purpose of leaving Egypt was to receive the Torah. Every morning we should renew that commitment as we wash our hands to receive the new day, for that washing is reminiscent of the High Priest washing his hands before he began his daily service in the Temple. The day is full of opportunities to “talk” to Hashem and build a relationship. Every bracha is part of my service. Just as I see little changes in the world as Hashem recreates each day, so is there change in me as Hashem also recreates me each day. As Mesilot Be’ohr Hachasidus of Belz notes, the two aspects of renewal are linked, for when I appreciate the daily renewal of the world, I can also appreciate the renewal in myself, and if I begin with appreciating the renewal in myself, I can appreciate all that Hashem does to maintain and renew the world.

The mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon was given during the darkest times in Egypt, notes the Netivot Shalom, as a message that in the darkest times we should recognize that the sliver of light will yet appear and grow, and we will be rejuvenated. 

The moon has several names in Hebrew, one of which is levanah, derived from libun, clarification writes Rabbi Leff. Just as the light of the moon is hidden and only partially reflected back to us, so too are the spiritual aspects of the world hidden from us. This concealment is necessary to preserve the free will of man. However, in the future world, the light of the moon will be equal to that of the sun, as the physical world will reach a state of perfection.

We are all familiar with the creation medrash that Hashem created the sun and the moon to be equal. When the moon complained that there could not be two “rulers” in the heavens, Hashem commanded the moon to diminish itself. Rabbi Hofstedter gives us a follow up to that medrash in Drash Dovid. Citing the Beis Dovid, he writes that although the moon was now only to reflect the light of the sun, its own light still remained but was hidden within itself. In the future, that light will be revealed, and that is the light we pray for when we sanctify the new moon. Every time we do a mitzvah, continues Rabbi Hofstedter, we get a bit of its reward in this physical world, but, like the hidden light of the moon, the bulk of that reward will come to us in the future.

What is interesting is the wording of the mitzvah. Hashem commands, “Hachodesh hazeh lachem -This month (this moon as it appears now) shall be for you ….”Mesameach Zion (a collection of essays based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov) picks up on this phrasing, and notes that Bnei Yisroel and the moon share the characteristic of renewal. “There is nothing new under the sun,” and everything in the physical world, under the sun, eventually withers and dies. But the physical world is imbued with an immortal soul and can therefore be elevated and achieve immortality.  This is the mission of Bnei Yisroel, symbolized by the moon. Its very name chodesh implies renewal,chodosh.

Now factor in the constant changing of the moon, its seemingly complete disappearance followed by its rebirth and you have the perfect analogy to the soul, that piece of Godliness within each of us and within the world itself. Even when that spirituality is hidden, it is still there and waiting to be renewed. A Jew feels this renewal because he taps into the spiritual essence of the world and infuses the physical and the mundane with the immortal Godliness of mitzvoth, enabling the physical to survive and not die. This is the lesson of the moon. It teaches us that even in our darkest moments, Hashem is in control. He has put me here, even in darkness, for a purpose. He has even implanted in me desires for the physical, for only then can I use the physical to reconnect to God and transform and elevate the physical to the spiritual.

Yes, in the beginning Hashem created the world for everyone. But He charged us with teaching other nations that the world is not just a physical entity, but that it is infused with a spiritual soul. Our mission is to live our lives revealing that connection to the Creator, and through our Torah observance be a light unto the nations. It is a light proven by the waxing and waning of moon, writes Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire, for its shining proves that the light comes from a higher source. After every darkness and time of God’s hiddenness, comes a time of greater revelation. This is the truth the women in the desert recognized, that even if Moshe would not return, even in apparent darkness, Hashem had a purpose in mind. Therefore they refused to donate to the creation of the golden calf, and therefore they were rewarded with Rosh Chodesh as their special holiday.

The Psalmist writes, “With a violin I will solve my riddle,” continues Rabbi Kluger. In a beautiful analogy, Rabbi Kluger writes that a song, like a life, must be made up of both high notes and low notes.  While the high notes are inspiring and soaring, without the low notes, the song would have no beauty and no texture. As we bless the new month each month and especially before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we must remember that we are always connected to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, ready to receive His light, and willing and able to reflect that light to the world even in times of darkness.