We are entering the month of Nisan, a month of overarching growth. I call it overarching because the growth exceeds any effort that we might invest. When our ancestors were in Egypt, they didn’t work to secure their liberation from bondage. It was handed to them freely by G-d. Nothing they could have done would have earned them that degree of miraculous intervention that they received. It was a gift from above.
The other big month in the Jewish calendar is Tishrei. The dual theme of Tishrei is the anniversary of creation and the atonement of our sins. It is not a month of extraordinary miracles. The natural cycle that was created this month thousands of years ago, is granted to us for another year. However, this isn’t conferred upon us as a gift from above as were the miracles of the Exodus. We earn our new year through our efforts to repent and atone for our sins.
Two Modes In Life
In life, there are two ways to achieve emotional growth and maturity. One is through effort. You toil and labor to fight your negative tendencies and to embrace your positive tendencies. Your success depends on the extent of your investment and the extent of the challenges that you must overcome. The other way to grow is without effort. When life deals you a smooth ride and gifts you with an easy personality that adapts well to maturity and to growth.
One is the Tishrei mode, and the other is the Nisan mode. The Tishrei mode doesn’t reach as high, but we have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever we gained, we achieved by our own effort. The Nisan mode is miraculous, it reaches unprecedented heights as our ancestors experienced in Egypt. It is also implied in the name of the month which means miracles. The Talmud says that if you dream of Nisan, expect miracles. But the downside is that we don’t earn these miracles. We merely receive them.
Some people are Nisan types, adventurous and spontaneous. They rarely plan in advance, they are impulsive, they run fast and enjoy life. These are the people that never book early, yet always find flights, they arrive last to the airport, yet always make the plane, they never make plans, but they always have fun. For them, life is a roller coaster. They scale the peaks with glee and enjoy the thrill of the plunge.
Then there are the Tishrei types. They plan their holidays meticulously and to the last detail. They arrive at the airport hours before the flight. They are organized and sedate. They have never felt the fastening of a bungee cord. They have never experienced the freefall of parachuting or hang gliding. Life is not thrilling, yet they enjoy it. Because everything that they experience, they planned and earned.
In Israel, Nisan marks the beginning of Spring. This month is marked by the miraculous rebirth of crops, foliage, and flowers that lay dormant all winter. This represents the organic flow of growth that is achieved without human effort. Tishrei is celebrated in the Fall and marks the burgeoning winter when the only warmth we have is generated by human effort. We must caulk the roof to stay dry, build the fire to stay warm, sow warm clothing to weather the cold, etc. Yet, the level of warmth we generate in the winter through our own effort is miniscule compared to the heat that we receive freely in the summer.
The seasons of these two months represent the two modes of life. The free gifts endowed from above and the difficult slog of overcoming challenges.
All In A Name
The famed Rabbi Moshe Sofer from Pressburg (1762–1839) once explained that these two modes are inherent in the names of these two months.
The Torah refers to Nisan as the month of Aviv. Aviv begins with the first letter in the Hebrew Alphabet and continues with the second letter in the Alphabet. Aleph represents the one G-d and Bet represents the world of pluralism and multiplicity. The message of Aviv, Alef Bet, is that gifts flow from above to below. From Alef to Bet. Bet doesn’t initiate the effort. It sits back and receives its bounty from above.
Tishrei, on the other hand, begins with the final letter in the Hebrew Alphabet, continues with the second to the last letter, and then features the third to the last letter. It is the opposite direction; it climbs from below to above. From last to first. This represents a time and a mode when nothing is granted freely from above. Whatever we hope to have, we must achieve by our own effort. We must repent, we must atone for our sins, we must turn over a new leaf. Only then can we hope to receive it.
In Nisan, the blessings travel only one station, from Alef to Bet. They arrive fresh with energy and filled with intensity. In Tishrei, the blessings must journey through twenty-two letters before they reach the final letter of the Alphabet. In Tishrei, we begin at the lowest level and by the time the blessings reach us they have lost their extraordinary miraculous strength.
When Will Mashiach Come?
The Talmud records an argument between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Eliezer says that our ancestors were liberated in the month of Nisan and we will be liberated from our exile in the month of Tishrei. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees. He said, as our ancestors were liberated in Nisan, so will we.
This is an odd argument. What does Rabbi Eliezer have against Mashiach coming in Nisan and what does Rabbi Yehoshua have against Mashiach coming in Tishrei? Do they really believe that if the time for Mashiach arrives, G-d will tarry until the appropriate month?
The Talmud speaks to us on many levels and this argument is no different. Neither rabbi had a problem with Mashiach coming in any month of the year. They argued over which is the best way for the Jews to receive Mashiach, in Nisan mode or in Tishrei mode?
Rabbi Eliezer said it is best that we receive Mashiach because we worked for it and earned it. Only then will we truly be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and luxuriate in the Divine revelations, Torah insights, and material prosperity that will mark that era.
Rabbi Yehoshua said, it would be better for us if Mashiach would arrive in Nisan mode. Let G-d not wait around until we are ready, let Him bring it even before we have earned it. Although we would enjoy it more thoroughly if we achieved it by our own effort, we would be compensated by the additional benefits that come when the gift is granted from above.
It goes without saying that it would be best if we could have our cake and eat it too. If we could earn it and still receive it generously and early. It is true that life doesn’t work that way, but Mashiach is not part of ordinary life. When he comes, he will shake up the usual order of things.
So, as we enter the month of Nisan, let us assume a Tishrei mode at a Nisan time. Let us grab every Mitzvah opportunity that comes our way. Let us increase in Torah, prayer, and Tzedakah, and may we experience the ultimate redemption with both elements—the Nisan gift and the Tishrei achievement. May Mashiach bring peace and emancipation to all humanity. May he usher in the time when nations will not lift swords against each other, and the world will know no war. Amen