Hachodesh: The Moon’s Renewal
“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Shemot 12:2) On the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh if it falls on the Shabbat, two Torah Scrolls are removed
from the Ark. From the first, the Sidrah of the week is read, and from the second, the Maftir, in this case, the passage giving the commandments associated with the very first Rosh Chodesh Nissan in Egypt, is read.
The first day of Nissan was and always remains a historic day for the Jewish nation. It was the day when the people received their first commandment as a nation: Sanctify the New Moon.
This ritual has a profound spiritual and historic significance. It is noteworthy that it was one of three commandments that the Syrian Greeks, in the time before the Chanukah miracle, attempted to nullify by force. The other two were the Observance of Shabbat and Circumcision. Clearly, therefore, Israel’s enemies understood that the sanctification of the New Moon was basic to the existence of Israel as a nation of Torah.
Commentators explain that, by virtue of this Commandment, G-d gave the Jewish people mastery over time. From that moment onward, the calendar with its cycle of festivals could exist only when the Sages of Israel declared the New Month. This signifies more than control over the reckoning of time, the dating of legal documents, and all the banalities to which man is subject in his everyday life. It represents the potential for renewal.
The Jewish people is symbolized by the moon because, although the moon wanes, it waxes as well. It stands for hope, for the confidence that there is a future as well as a past. This vibrancy assures that any conquest of the Jewish people can never be more than temporary. Israel may seem to disappear from the panorama of history – but so does the moon.
The moon returns – and Israel, by means of the power vested in it by the Torah, sanctifies the New Month. So, too, the nation constantly renews its vigor, constantly defies the laws of history that insist it should have long since become extinct, constantly demonstrates its ability to make itself the vehicle for the prophecies of redemption and a greater spiritual world.