Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg ZT”L on Rosh Chodesh
The following is an excerpt from Aish HaTorah’s Voices from Jerusalem tape, WY41B Pinchas (Includes Rosh Chodesh Av) – 2, Side B. The speaker is Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg ztllh’h, the late head of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, MD. The material is copyrighted by Aish HaTorah and is not for commercial reproduction without their consent. Transcribed and adapted with notes by Moshe Eliovson.
Rosh Chodesh translated means “Head of the month.”
Flipping a page in the calendar and marking a new month do not satisfy the Jewish People; for us it is “Chodesh.”
“Chodesh” comes from “Chadash, new.” The month depends on the *renewal* of the moon. The moon wanes, disappears and renews itself. With the renewed moon we have our new month.
The month is for all nations built around the motion of the moon, but we call it by this feature, this feature of renewal. The Kedusha, the holiness of Rosh Chodesh is this very concept of renewal. We’re given Rosh Chodesh as a kaparah, atonement, because in the concept of renewal is where we find atonement and where we find Teshuva, return. (It is) where we find the strength and the approach with which to build our lives.
Certainly the concept of Teshuva is above all a concept of renewal. You’re a new person. This concept of renewal, this concept of recognizing that every moment is fresh and every moment is a new beginning is built into the Master of the universe’s Creation; He built it in, in the motions of the moon and He gave us the mitzvah to be Mekadeish et ha-Chodesh, to sanctify the new month, to identify with this renewal. [Transcriber’s note: This is a very strong explanation as to why the very first mitzvah of the Torah is “HaChodesh hazeh lachem, This month shall be yours”, i.e., to sanctify the new month in Exodus 12:1. It also adds an extraordinary insight into why our commentator Rashi begins his commentary to the WHOLE Torah with his father Rabbi Yitzhak’s statement that the Torah could have started with the mitzvah of the new month!!!] He built it in, in the motions of the moon and He gave us the mitzvah to be Mekadeish et ha-Chodesh, to sanctify the new month, to identify with this renewal. We sanctify each month, monthly. We establish in ourselves the recognition of this concept of renewal.
Renewal means that the burden of the past can be shed. We can start fresh anytime. In Rosh Chodesh as in all Kedusha hazman, sanctification of time (e.g., the holidays, Shabbat), we have help from the Master of the universe. Rosh Chodesh is the time when we can reach out most easily and most successfully to establish our self-renewal. That’s why it’s so intimately and closely (connected) with the whole idea of Teshuva, returning. That’s why we do have the concept of Yom Kippur Katan (the little Yom Kippur, a voluntary fast day celebrated before each new month by extra-pious, or extra attuned as we’ll see, individuals.) (It’s that) the day before Rosh Chodesh is a day of Teshuva, repentance, introspection, rethinking what we are, what we did, how we did, the how we are, what we understand, what our aspirations and hope will be–all that goes into Teshuva–preparation really–for beginning anew. That is the mark of the Master of the universe’s Chesed (expansiveness), is that the past is *not* a dead weight.
That is one of the aspects of chidush, renewal. One of the aspects of renewal is that we can start again, fresh, clean, clear and that we can shake off the burdens of our past actions.
There is another aspect of renewal. There is another aspect of Chadash (“new”), that is perhaps more fundamental and perhaps is the very basis of Teshuva itself as well.
There is no comparison between the old and the new in terms of our relationship, of our excitement and interest. You have only to stop and think how much more the beginning of a new endeavor of study grips us than the learning of that same material after the first couple of months. You have only to recall how much sweeter and more pleasant learning a new topic is, than review, going over the old. Seeing a new place, the excitement that it engenders, the feeling of awareness and interest that is there; that is a reality. When we start something new, when we see something new, when we approach something new and the fading out of enthusiasm and interest and involvement as it becomes somewhat old.
This (is the concept) of “Let every day be in your eyes like new.” The great sage the Chatam Sofer once said, “People say that I have a very good memory. That is absolutely not true. I have a very ordinary memory. But,” he said, “Every piece of Torah that I learn, I learn it with the excitement of one who has never seen a piece of Torah before in his life and will never see another again. Try to forget it.”
If there is that sense of excitement and interest, “It’s the only exposure I will ever have–to Torah!” then ten minutes (of study) is an acquisition for a lifetime. Those ten minutes of the only exposure that I’ll have, the only opportunity that will ever present itself to me. I can grab in *now*; now, that which I will now imbibe and absorb, is all that I will have. As the Chatam Sofer said, you can’t forget it. It becomes the very core of your life. Its interest; it seeks in; it dips in; it becomes the thing you care about.
And–memory is caring. You have only to see the unbelievable feats of memory that people who care perform. Boys who couldn’t remember their address or telephone number will remember the batting averages of fifty players, can tell you the scores of games for the past twenty-five years. The same young men, who if it came to something in their studies, totally forget what they read two minutes ago. The difference of course is the degree of interest, the absorption they have in those baseball scores. They’re absorbed in it. They remember it.
The freshness, the sense of newness the sense that this is something unique and different is a thing that makes it be bound in our thoughts and in our memories, in our feelings, every recollection of it. You can’t forget it. That’s what the Chatam Sofer is saying. This is what “Let every day be in your eyes like new” means. It isn’t that, “Oh, I’ve learned Torah already.” It’s that each word is a new opportunity; each word is a whole new insight, a unique experience. It’s something separate and it’s worth in the millions. It’s a precious thing.
You can’t compare it even to diamonds. You get tired of diamonds; a man who deals with diamonds all day–they become cheap. Good, he’s still a little more careful than he would be with stones; he wants to be sure he doesn’t lose one, but the excitement and the sense of wonder at seeing it disappears after he’s examined his first thousand diamonds.
Rosh Chodesh gives us this strength (of renewal, of being/seeing new) if we use it. With our prayers, with our understanding, our learning laws of the New Month, gives us this ability to look at the Torah and the Master of the universe and service and the commandments with a sense of freshness, with a sense of beginning, with all the excitement that that engenders. All the wonder and interest automatically come to us when we look at it that way. More, it is a constant reminder of the need to recognize that every word of Torah is a unique experience, that every opportunity to perform a mitzvah is a unique experience. It is a separate attestation of faith. It is a separate establishment of an excitement of relating to G-d. The awareness, the thinking about it, the making it a part of being that is not just habit, but that we stop and contemplate and think about and deal with, with an open, fresh mind. All of these things change what we are doing, when we come to learn, or when we come to do the commandments, when we come to establish our personal responsibilities as well as our responsibilities to our fellow Jews and communities at large. If we come to it with a sense of knowing, with a sense not of habit, but of contemplation, of thinking about it, there is this “new in your eyes”; there is this sense of newness, this sense and excitement of starting.
Again, we being what we are, the human beings that we are, there is a tendency to let it become old hat. Rosh Chodesh is the time that we can use to engender again this sense of newness with all the excitement and commitment it can and does engender. This sense of renewal, of self renewal, which is the fundamental of Teshuva, the knowing that we can start our life all over again and that from this moment on we can be *literally* Tzaddikim gemurim, complete saints; that from this moment on we can open our minds up to Torah and service and the Master of the universe and responsibility for Israel. We can undertake the journey that leads inevitably to Mashiach. At this moment we can start new.
FYI: Aish HaTorah’s tape library contains a treasure chest of Rav Yaakov’s Shiurim on far ranging topics.