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The Edythe Benjamin
חיה בת שלמה
beloved mother of Barbara Hanus
Rosh Chodesh Torah Essay for Nissan

As we step outside our homes, the air carries a scent of freshness, the sight of budding plants greets us, and the chirping of birds fills our ears, marking the renewal of nature. This natural resurgence mirrors the month of Nissan, which symbolizes the birth of the Jewish nation through the historic redemption from Egypt.

The correlation between Nissan and national birth is profound, laying the foundation for future chapters in Jewish History. As exemplified at the outset of the Second Commonwealth, when Ezra returns to the Land of Israel accompanied by a small group of Jews:

כִּי, בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן--הוּא יְסֻד, הַמַּעֲלָה מִבָּבֶל; וּבְאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי, בָּא אֶל-יְרוּשָׁלִַם, כְּיַד-אֱלֹהָיו, הַטּוֹבָה עָלָיו (עזרא ז, ט)

For on the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon; and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God on him (Ezra 7:9)

Ezra and his followers embark on their trek from Babylonia at the start of the first month, Nissan, and reach Jerusalem on the first of the fifth month, Av. The symbolism of their timetable is noteworthy! By arriving on Rosh Chodesh Av, they effectively transform a month associated with destruction into one of renewal, a process that commences with Nissan.

And indeed the Gemara recounts:

In Nissan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Nissan in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed (Rosh Hashana 11a)

The redemptive nature of Nissan will not only be replicated in the future, but as the Nevi’im teach, there will be a commonality between the past and future redemptions, as hinted too in the words of the prophet Micha:

כִּימֵי צֵאתְךָ, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, אַרְאֶנּוּ, נִפְלָאוֹת (מיכה ז, טו)

As in the days of your coming forth out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things (Micha 7:15).

Yirmiyahu even suggests that the future redemption will outshine the Egyptian exodus:

לָכֵן הִנֵּה-יָמִים בָּאִים, נְאֻם- ה’; וְלֹא-יֵאָמֵר עוֹד חַי- ה’, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. טו כִּי אִם-חַי- ה’, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ צָפוֹן, וּמִכֹּל הָאֲרָצוֹת, אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחָם שָׁמָּה; וַהֲשִׁבֹתִים, עַל-אַדְמָתָם, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי, לַאֲבוֹתָם (ירמיהו טז, יד)

“Therefore, behold, the days come,” says Hashem, “that it shall no longer be said, ‘As Hashem lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt’, (Jer. 16:14)

What elevates the future redemption to a status of greater significance?

Abarbanel and other commentators explain that the distinction lies in the scope of redemption. In contrast to the Exodus from Egypt, where the Israelites were congregated in a singular geographical region prior to their liberation, the future redemption entails a grander design. It entails G-d’s gathering of the Jewish people scattered across distant lands to which they were exiled, ultimately leading them back to the land of Israel. Thus, this monumental ingathering surpasses the historical Exodus.

It is possible, though, to add an additional consideration based upon an examination of the following motifs at the time of the Exodus.

Water- played a pivotal role in the Exodus from Egypt, culminating in the miraculous drowning of the mighty Egyptian army in the Sea and the salvation of Israel with the splitting of the waters. So too, during the subsequent forty year sojourn in the arid desert, water became a major focus with the Israelites complaining about the lack thereof and G-d meeting the nation’s needs.

Route & Delay- the Exodus journey was carefully orchestrated by G-d to accommodate the needs of the people. Instead of opting for a direct route to Canaan, G-d led them along a circuitous path, mindful that if they encountered any threats, they might hastily retreat back to Egypt. This decision reflects the fragile emotional state of the fleeing nation. Unaccustomed to the concept of freedom, they lack the confidence to sustain it. Despite the careful consideration, the nation will sin, partially due to the mixed multitude that joined them as they left Egypt, and the planned eleven-day journey will turn into forty years.

Protection– the nation that hastily departed from Egypt is guided by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. These pillars not only navigate the way but also provide a reassuring sense of protection. Elsewhere, it is noted that an angel of G-d proceeds them.

If we compare these themes to the description of the future redemption, we will note some essential differences.

The Book of Yishayahu, chapter thirty five, describes the rejoicing and the flowering of the desert at the time of future deliverance; let us take careful note of the prophet’s language:

(א) יְשֻׂשׂוּם מִדְבָּר וְצִיָּה וְתָגֵל עֲרָבָה וְתִפְרַח כַּחֲבַצָּלֶת.

(ב) פָּרֹחַ תִּפְרַח וְתָגֵל אַף גִּילַת וְרַנֵּן כְּבוֹד הַלְּבָנוֹן נִתַּן לָהּ הֲדַר הַכַּרְמֶל וְהַשָּׁרוֹן הֵמָּה יִרְאוּ כְבוֹד י”י הֲדַר אֱלֹהֵינוּ…

(ו) כִּי נִבְקְעוּ בַמִּדְבָּר מַיִם וּנְחָלִים בָּעֲרָבָה.

(1)The wilderness and the parched land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.

(2) It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of Hashem, the excellency of our God…

6) For in the wilderness waters shall break out and streams in the desert.

Observe the progression evident in the verses. While the opening verse mentions the verbs “rejoice” and “blossom” once, in the following verse, each verb is doubled. The Midrash offers an explanation for this phenomenon, suggesting that humans cannot endure the full revelation of G-d all at once, thus, it is delivered to them gradually, in stages:

But what does the Almighty do? Reveals himself to them, slowly, slowly.

First “the wilderness and parched land shall be glad,” afterwards, “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose,” then “it shall blossom abundantly,” and then “the glory of Lebanon,” and finally “they will see the glory of Hashem.” (Yalkut Shimoni Isaiah 241).

As per the words of Yeshayahu, due to the presence of G-d’s glory, the desert will be permeated with streams of water (v. 6), but which wilderness is the prophet describing?

Mezudat David posits that it refers to the Land of Israel, which had lain desolate like a desert following Israel’s exile. Radak suggests that it denotes the wilderness along the path of the returning Jews to the land of Israel. The barren land will undergo a miraculous transformation into streams, abundantly supplying water to the returnees. Consequently, the water-related challenges faced by the Israelites during their desert journey after the Exodus, will not pertain to those returning to Zion.

Regarding the path of return, Yishayahu writes:

וְהָיָה-שָׁם מַסְלוּל וָדֶרֶךְ, וְדֶרֶךְ הַקֹּדֶשׁ יִקָּרֵא לָהּ–לֹא-יַעַבְרֶנּוּ טָמֵא, וְהוּא-לָמוֹ; הֹלֵךְ דֶּרֶךְ וֶאֱוִילִים, לֹא יִתְעוּ (פס’ ח’)

And a highway shall be there, and a way. And it shall be called “the way of holiness”.

The unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for them; neither the wayfaring men nor the fools shall err in it. (v. 8)

Unlike the path in the desert which was circuitous, and was trodden upon by the whole nation including the mixed multitude/erev rav, the highway of the future returnees will be a “way of holiness,” with only the deserving returning directly to the land of Israel.

And how will the nation feel at the time of future redemption? Yeshayahu describes their emotional state:

וּפְדוּיֵי ה’ יְשֻׁבוּן, וּבָאוּ צִיּוֹן בְּרִנָּה, וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם, עַל-רֹאשָׁם; שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה יַשִּׂיגוּ, וְנָסוּ יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה (פס’ י)

And the ransomed of Hashem shall return and come with singing to Zion. And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (v. 10)

They will experience tremendous and enduring “joy”-note the four terms of “joy” outlined in the verse. This creates a stark contrast to the time of the Exodus, when the Israelites felt fear and trepidation with no mention of joy whatsoever.

Moving forward to a subsequent chapter in Yishayahu, where the description of redemption is elaborated upon, the prophet writes:

סוּרוּ סוּרוּ צְאוּ מִשָּׁם טָמֵא אַל תִּגָּעוּ צְאוּ מִתּוֹכָהּ הִבָּרוּ נֹשְׂאֵי כְּלֵי ה’: כִּי לֹא בְחִפָּזוֹן תֵּצֵאוּ וּבִמְנוּסָה לֹא תֵלֵכוּן כִּי הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם ה’ וּמְאַסִּפְכֶם אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (נב, יא-יב)

Depart, depart, go out from there. Touch no unclean thing. Go out of the midst of her; be clean, you that bear the vessels of Hashem. For you shall not go out in haste and you shall not go by flight; for Hashem will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (52:11-12)

In contrast to the Exodus from Egypt, which was conducted hastily (behipazon) – hence the tradition of eating matzah to symbolize the lack of time for the dough to rise – the future redemption will not be rushed (lo behipazon). So too, in the future redemption the returnees will not be led by the pillar of cloud or fire but rather by Hashem himself!

Thus, we see that the future redemption will be on a higher level than that of the Exodus and will “correct” some of the challenges faced during the time of the redemption from Egypt. What is the reason for this surprising change? What can explain this distinction?

Rabbi David Sabato explains that the initial redemption was on a lower level because Israel was not yet a nation. At the time of the Exodus, the identity of the people of Israel was ambiguous and undefined, with the realization of their true identity and purpose unfolding gradually throughout their sojourn in the desert. In the wilderness, God creates the nation of Israel from the beginning. Hence, their redemption can be characterized as “a redemption of creation.”

Conversely, the future redemption does not entail starting from scratch. Israel already exists as a nation, albeit one with imperfections and faults, but it is a people. The task ahead involves rectifying these defects and correcting past mistakes. Therefore, the future deliverance can be viewed as “a redemption of correction,” perfecting the initial one.[1]

The past six months have brought immense pain to Jews worldwide- both in Israel and in the diaspora. Alongside this anguish, many have embarked on a journey of introspection, both personally and collectively, resulting in a path towards correction. Let us hope and pray that these transformative steps, the initial stage in the “redemption of correction,” will persist, and coupled with the redemptive nature of the month of Nissan, will hasten the arrival of the final redemption.

Source:

[1] Rabbi David Sabato, “The Redemption from Egypt and the Future Redemption, [Heb.], www.ybm.org.il

Dr. Lisa Fredman is in the second cohort of the Kitvuni Fellowship at Matan. She will be writing on Rashi’s holistic approach to books of the Ketuvim. Lisa has a Ph.D in Bible from Bar Ilan University and has published a Critical Edition of Rashi’s Commentary to Proverbs as well as articles on Rashi’s methodology. She teaches in Efrata College and other prominent women’s Torah Institutions.