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Sefat Emet: Bo II

“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months …” Establishing and maintaining a calendar is the first mitzvah that God commanded us as a nation. God told this mitzvah to Moshe Rabbeinu as part of the preparation for the redemption. Immediately following this mitzvah, God commanded us regarding the mitzvos of Pesach – the korban pesach, matzah and chametz. Why, the Sfas Emes asks, is the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon given here? What is the connection between this mitzvah and the redemption?

The word חֹדֶשׁ/month, the Sfas Emes teaches, comes from the root חדש/new. The physical association with a moon that disappears and reappears once a month is obvious. However, the Sfas Emes explains that there is a spiritual significance as well. The new moon symbolizes renewal. Renewal and novelty, originality and creativity are all spiritual attributes. Indeed, Shlomo HaMelech taught us in Koheles, “There is nothing new under the sun,” implying that “above the sun” – in the spiritual realms novelty does exist.

Change in the physical world is simply a manifestation of the spiritual. God, of course, is the ultimate source. God is the source of renewal as we say each morning in the first bracha before kri’as shma, בְרֵאשִׁית/Who, in His goodness, renews each day continuously the works of the Creation.” The way to tap in to novelty, creativity and originality, then, is by connecting to the spiritual from whence they originate. When we recognize that everything is from God, we open ourselves to receiving novelty and renewal.

The first time this happened was at the redemption from Egypt. At that time it was clear to all that God is in control. Our situation changed drastically due to His direct intervention. Appropriately, at the time of the redemption God gave us the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon which symbolizes renewal.

On Shabbos, as well, there is renewal and novelty since on Shabbos there is a revelation of Godliness in the Creation. The difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, though, is that God established Shabbos whereas He gave us the power to determine the beginning of each month. In terms of renewal and novelty in the world, the aspect of revelation associated with the new month is dependent upon our faith. Our belief that there is God-given life force in everything draws revelation and renewal into the world. Chazal hint at this connection as well. God tells the angels that He and the angels will follow whatever the nation of Israel decides regarding establishing the new month, as the pasuk in Tehillim says, “אֶקְרָא לֵא-לֹהִים עֶלְיוֹן לָאֵ-ל גֹּמֵר עָלָי/I will call to God Most High, to God who fulfills things for me.” Just as the establishment of the new month is dependent upon us, so too, is the invoking of renewal and creativity in this world.

The aspect of revelation associated with Shabbos is independent of our faith. It is God-given. When God gave us the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon, He said, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם …/This month shall be for you …” or according to what we’ve said, “This renewal is yours …” Regarding the mitzvah of Shabbos, on the other hand, we find, “’שַׁבָּת לה/Shabbos is to God.”

We find this difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh in the way that God related to Moshe Rabbeinu differently from the rest of the nation. Rashi cites Chazal who teach us that God showed Moshe Rabbeinu the new moon. The significance for us is that Moshe Rabbeinu was on a level of recognition of God that went beyond faith. Moshe Rabbeinu’s level of faith was akin to seeing. We do need to have faith that the sun is shining. We see it shining. This was Moshe Rabbeinu’s level of belief and this is what Chazal mean when they tell us that God showed Moshe Rabbeinu the new moon. This level is given by God. It is like Shabbos in this respect. This is the reason that we mention Moshe Rabbeinu in the morning prayer on Shabbos, “יִשְׂמַח מֹשֶׁה בְּמַתְּנַת חֶלְקו/Moshe will be happy with the gift of his portion.”

Moshe’s level of belief was like Shabbos, it was given to him just like Shabbos was given. The nation’s level of belief was like the new moon. It is in our power just like establishing the beginning of the month is in our power. May we merit recognizing God in everything thus opening ourselves up to renewal, novelty, originality and creativity, attributes that can come only from Him.

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