Hachodesh: Chiddushei HaRim: Renewal
The 23rd of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger (Chidushei HaRim) (1799-1866). The founder of Gerer dynasty, grandfather of Sfas Emes, Reb Yitz chak Meir was able to trace his lineage back to Rav Meir ben Baruch (the Maharam) of Rottenberg (1215-1293). His mother, Chaya Sarah, was orphaned early in life and was raised by her relative, the Kozhnitzer Maggid. The Maggid had a great influence on Yitzchak Meir during the latter’s early years. As he grew, he became a disciples of Rebbi Simcha Bunem of Pryschicha and then R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. At the insistence of the Chassidim, the Rim became leader after the death of the Kotzker. At the first Chassi dic gathering over which he presided he declared, “Reb Simchah Bunem led with love, and R’ Menachem Mendel with fear. I will lead with Torah!” He had 13 children and outlived them all , a tremendous personal tragedy. Yet, he accepted it all with love.
The Chiddushei HaRim relates eternity to renewal. That which renews itself contains the seeds of permanence. Indeed, Koheles says there is nothing new ( ) under the sun (Koheles 1:9). Under the sun, within the constraints of the physical world, hischadshus , renewal and regeneration, is not possible. Why then does the Torah give a wicked king like Pharaoh of Egypt, the oppressor of the Jews, the description of new, as it says: A new king arose over Egypt (Shemos 1:8)?
Says the Chiddushei HaRim, the quality of renewal is spiritual and belongs to Am Yisrael, to enable them to rise above the mundane in their service of G-d. We are told there is no beis hamedrash without chiddush, newness, and constant rejuvenation is the ideal form of service of Hashem. But when Yisrael does not use the quality of newness and enthusiasm in the correct way (the Torah says that in Mitzrayim the Jews did not listen to Moshe , which the Sforno translates as a lack of spirituality), this quality of renewal, chiddush, is transferred to the goyim. The gentiles cannot use it spiritually and instead apply it negatively. And so we find , he [Pharaoh] made new decrees against the Jews (Rashi on Shemos 1:8).
The Jewish quality is used against them, but only in such a way as to make Am Yisrael repent and look into themselves. The punishment is not punitive, it is corrective. It is the classic cycle of Jewish history – punishment, teshuvah, renewal (which also corresponds to the sequence of months: Av, Elul, Tishrei, and the specific type of avodah required in each).
In Egypt, the Jews suffer the agonies of persecution. They cry to G-d as a result of their troubles and their cry is heeded. Egypt is humbled by the ten plagues, and the Jews become elevated by experiencing this divine intervention. Our nation loses its galus mentality and rediscovers its own greatness, culminating in the Exodus and the birth of a nation.
On the eve of the Exodus, the symbol of Egyptian idolatry – the paschal lamb – is slaughtered. This lamb is not only the god of Egypt, it is the mazel, the zodiac sign, of the month of Nissan. Am Yisrael has rejected the avodah zarah of Egypt and any dependence on mazalos (natural laws based on cause and effect). The divine message to the emerging nation is . The Chiddushei HaRim interprets these words as follows: Chodesh implies chiddush: chiddush is , yours. This is the quality Am Yisrael have now regained: the power of chiddush. Symbolically, our calendar follows the lunar cycle, because the moon embodies this characteristic of renewal; Rosh Chodesh is also a time for atonement because it represents a new beginning, a fresh start.
What starts with adversity ends with elevation: the Egyptian attempt to destroy us was instead a catalyst for our nation to acquire its eternal quality of hischadshus, renewal, giving Yisrael its eternal qualities.