Parshat Bo תש”פ
On Rosh HaShanah this year, the Jewish Calendar year changed from 5779 to 5780 (“Rosh HaShanah” means the “head of the year” or the beginning of the new year.) This number represents the years that have passed since Man’s creation on the First of Tishrei.
How, then, are we to understand this verse in this week’s Torah portion Bo (Exodus 12:2)?
“הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה”
“This month is for you the beginning of the months, it is for you the first of the months of the year.
Referring to the month of ניסן (Nisan), the verse is saying that Nisan is to be considered the first of the months. Indeed, the Torah tells us that Rosh HaShanah is the First day of the Seventh Month, and Pesach is celebrated on the Fifteenth day of the First Month of the year.
How does this work? How can two different months both be the First of the year?
The answer is that the First of Tishrei marks the anniversary of the birth of the world, the day on which Adam, the beginning of Mankind was created—the reason for Creation itself. The month of Nisan, on the other hand, is the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish Nation who became HaShem’s nation when they left Egypt on the Fifteenth Day of that month. The prophet Ezekiel (16:4) describes the Jewish people emerging from Egypt like the birth of a child emerging from its mother’s womb:
“וּמוֹלְדוֹתַיִךְ בְּיוֹם הוּלֶּדֶת אֹתָךְ לֹא כָרַֹת שָׁרֵֹךְ וּבְמַיִם לֹא רֻחַצְתְּ לְמִשְׁעִי וְהָמְלֵחַ לֹא הֻמְלַחַתְּ וְהָחְתֵּל לֹא חֻתָּלְתְּ”
“And as for your birth, on the day that you were born, your navel was not cut, you were not washed in water or salted nor were you swaddled at all.”
This verse refers to how needy the Jewish nation was at its birth when it emerged from Egypt. It was like a newborn child who lacked the care that a newborn needs. In the next verses the prophet describes how HaShem tended to all of those needs, and made the Jewish nation into the amazing nation that it became.
There is something very noteworthy about the verse (quoted above) introducing Nisan as the first month of the Jewish calendar year. It includes the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation, viz, the commandment to the High Court to consecrate the new month through the testimony of witnesses who saw the first sliver crescent of the new moon.
Although the new moon appears automatically, Rosh Chodesh is not “official” until the High Court proclaims it so. The process requires two witnesses who see the new moon to come to the High Court to testify that they saw that first crescent. The Court, knowing how the new moon should look, would interrogate them to determine that they actually saw it. If their testimony was accepted, the Court would proclaim the new month by declaring, מקודש החודש מקודש!””—“the new month is sanctified.”
HaShem also then told Moshe exactly when each future month would become visible until the end of time, so that Moshe would sanctify them, should, for some reason, the court be unable to do it. This is how our Roshei Chodoshim were sanctified, even though we now lack the High Court.
There is great significance in the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh being the very first Mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people, and in the fact that we use a lunar calendar instead of a solar calendar as do most other nations. It is indicative of the Jewish view of time, versus the conventional view of time.
The conventional view of time is, that time has neither beginning nor end. It has always been around, and it will continue to be so, forever. Each second, minute, hour, day … just follows the one before it as time marches relentlessly onward, waiting for no one. People find themselves caught somewhere in the middle of its vast nothingness, but, in reality, they are really nowhere. Time has no specific purpose or destination, it just is; and in the vast, endless canvas of time, it really makes no difference who existed when.
The Torah perspective of time is the antithesis of this. It starts with the very beginning of time.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:1) teaches us:
“בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם”
“The world was created with Ten Pronouncements”
This seems to refer to all the times that the Torah declares, “וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים” —“And HaShem said,” when creating the world’s various elements. The problem is that “וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים” is said only nine times. The Talmud responds to this difficulty by asserting that the Torah’s first word, “בְּרֵאשִׁית”—“In the beginning,” is actually the first of the Ten Statements. The commentaries, of course, ask, “What was created with this word?” The answer they give is—a beginning was created, the beginning of time.
Rabbeinu Ovadiah Seforno expresses it like this.
ספורנו עה”ת, ספר בראשית, פרק א
“בְּרֵאשִׁית”. “בתחלת הזמן והוא רגע ראשון בלתי מתחלק שלא היה זמן קודם לו”.
“At the beginning of time, which is the very first moment, which cannot be divided, and before which there was nothing.”
We are accustomed to thinking that before HaShem created the world, there was just eons of time and a vast empty expanse of space into which HaShem placed a solar system with the planets including planet earth. The reality is that before HaShem created the world, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, but HaShem. No time. No space. Just HaShem alone, Who created time and space.
When we contemplate the creation of “a beginning,” our thoughts must also include a continuation of that beginning and its end. A beginning means the beginning of something, so it must have a middle and an end. When HaShem created time, He created a finite thing, with a specific duration.
The Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 97a):
“אמר רב קטינא: ‘שית אלפי שני הוו עלמא וחד חרוב'”
“Rav Ketina said, ‘The world will exist for six thousand years, and it will be destroyed for one.’”
Time in our world has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and, like everything else that HaShem created, it has a purpose. What is that purpose?
The six-thousand-year time period is the number of years that HaShem has determined is sufficient for Mankind to bring the world to its perfection through Man’s collective actions. In light of this, every generation on the timeline has a unique mission to accomplish at that spot on the timeline, and is an essential component in the ongoing task of perfecting the world. As such, each subsequent generation builds its contribution on the foundations of the generation before it. As each new generation takes up its position on the time line, it is endowed with the necessary talents and qualities it will need to accomplish its part in perfecting the world. Our Sages teach us that being so close to the end of the 6,000 years (we are at 5780, with just 220 years left), our actions are more potent and have the ability to accomplish even more than in generations before us.
What are we striving for? What will a perfect world look like? A perfect world is one in which every single inhabitant recognizes HaShem as the Creator and Master of the world. This is what the Mashiach will accomplish, and we are preparing the world for his arrival by bringing the world to recognize HaShem.
How are we to accomplish this goal? Our job in this world is to do HaShem’s holy work through learning the Torah and fulfilling its Mitzvot, which are designed to guide us to follow HaShem’s ways and make us perfect human beings modelled after HaShem’s perfection. When we do this, the entire world will recognize us as the holy people of HaShem.
Recently, the Torah learning community took part in a Siyum HaShas, a celebration for the completion of the entire Babylonian Talmud (“Shas”). Many thousands of Jewish men the world over, studied the same new page of Talmud every day, and over the course of seven and a half years completed the entire set of volumes. Such a momentous accomplishment is cause for a major celebration, and, indeed, celebrations were held all over the world on Wednesday, January 1, 2020.
Approximately 90,000 people gathered at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to attend the celebration. The event’s organizers could not get over how orderly and courteous the people were to them, and to each other. People said thank you to the police and the help, and no one was drunk, not one altercation or raised voice occurred throughout the entire event, and people did as they were instructed.
Another thing that blew the spectators away was the evening service—Maariv—prayed by all, after the event. There was the usual commotion or loud recitation of the blessings and the Shema parts of the prayers, but when it came to the Amidah, the silent prayer, the entire stadium fell pin-drop silent, for almost ten minutes. There was not one person talking or even whispering to his neighbor. (Everyone was busy talking to HaShem.) What could possibly compel 90,000 people to suddenly, in one split second, fall silent for ten full minutes without even one breach in the silence?
There is only one force powerful enough to accomplish that and that is a relationship with HaShem. At that moment, there was no question that the people who claim to be G-d’s people, exhibited G-dly conduct, and showed the world that HaShem exists.
Here is a copy of the letter to the Siyum team in Manchester, England, received from the Operations Manager of the SSE Arena stadium used for the event:
This being the case, the Torah perspective on time is the antithesis of the conventional view. Time has a purpose and a goal. We can derive this idea from its very name.
In Hebrew, the word for “time” is “זמן” . The verb form of this word is “להזמין” , which means “to prepare”. HaShem has given us time on this earth to prepare the world for its ultimate purpose. Instead of time being a meaningless continuation from the moment that preceded it, each new moment in time is a new opportunity to accomplish something toward the world’s perfection.
By preparing this world for its purpose, we also prepare our place in the world to come. We will be handsomely rewarded for choosing to use our time to perfect HaShem’s world through learning Torah and doing mitzvot, instead of squandering it on matters of nothingness. Time provides us with the framework through which we prepare ourselves for the world to come.
Additionally, through learning Torah and performing the Mitzvot, we improve and perfect ourselves. They provide direct injections of holiness into our souls that slowly change us from earthy, materialistic people, to holy, spiritual people.
This concept is best described in the verse about Avraham our forefather (Genesis 24:1).
“וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים”
“And Avraham was old, he came with his days.”
What does that mean? It means that he used each of his days to the fullest, and thus his days of accomplishment were “in” him, and he brought them with him when he left the world.
When personal cameras first came out, the sales pitch for them was, “Capture the moment!” It is so attractive to try to snatch a moment out of time and eternalize it in a picture that will bring us back to relive that moment. When we use our time to do a Mitzvah, we are doing exactly that. We are eternalizing that moment, because HaShem is guarding it to reward us for it in the world to come.
The moon is the perfect example of how we should look at time because the moon is forever new, and we can never see a stagnant moon. This is because there are no two moments when the moon is the exactly the same. Either it is on its way to becoming larger, or on its way to becoming smaller. That is why a month is called a “חֹדֶשׁ” from the word “חָדָשׁ” which means “new”, since every moment of the lunar month is new. Similarly, we should see each new moment of our lives as a new opportunity to prepare the world and ourselves.
There is another important lesson in the moon. The moon waxes and wanes until it disappears for a full twenty-four hours. After the lull of twenty-four hours, the moon returns and steadily grows to reach its full state. This resembles life in many ways, because we also have our ups and our downs. When we are down, we need to look at the moon and see how it comes back full every month, and when we are up, we should not make the mistake of thinking this is the way it will always be. We need to learn from the moon that things wax and wane.
The sun, contrariwise, is the same every day of the year and never changes. It is always out there in full force, with its rays beating relentlessly on the earth. That’s not realistic for the human being.
This is why the sanctification of the new moon is the first Mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people as a nation. This Mitzvah sets the proper perspective on what time is. Time is like the moon, that each new second is a new opportunity to perfect the world through perfecting ourselves. In doing that, we also prepare ourselves for the World To Come.
The Vilna Gaon cried on his deathbed. They asked him, “What could a person like you, who didn’t waste a minute in life, have to cry about?”
He answered. “In this world, I can take a few dollars, buy a pair of Tzitzit, and gain eternal reward in the world to come for wearing them. In the next world, there are no more such opportunities. I am crying because I’m about to lose those opportunities.”