The basis for the Jewish calendar is found in this week’s Parasha in the form of the very first mitzvah that is actually commanded of B’nai Yisrael. Can that possibly be true? We are more than one third of the way through the Torah cycle and we are just now receiving the first mitzvah? Yes. Exodus 12:1 establishes Nissan as the first month of the year and that each new month be sanctified. . But more important than that is that the lunar calendar has been arranged to correct itself in a very special way. How so and what is its basis?
We know that the events of the Passover are to be celebrated not merely on the evening of the 14th of Nissan, but specifically, in the springtime. Exodus 13:4. Lunar months alternate between 29 and 30 days. So, a 12 month lunar year only contains 354 days. Left uncorrected, the seasons would not always fall in what we consider their normal months. Nissan, which at the time of the Exodus was in the springtime, would occur 11 days earlier every year so that Nissan could, over time, be celebrated irrespective of the season. Because the Torah requires that the Passover be celebrated (1) during Nissan, (2) in the spring time and (3) annually, the practice of inserting an extra month every 2-3 years or so as a “lunar leap year” was instituted to regulate the calendar. This is actually considered more accurate than the solar calendar!
Even more important is the concept of sanctification of time and treating every moment as having holy potential. The Hebrew word we use for month is “Chodesh,” but that is a gross understatement of its depth. “Chodesh” comes from the word “Chadash,” meaning “new.” B’nai Yisrael was about to be redeemed from slavery and renewed as a people. The Rabbis tell us to see each new moon, each Chodesh, as a time and opportunity for renewal. When we announce the arrival of the new month in synagogue every 4 Shabbatot or so, we pray for that renewal. God and Torah give us opportunities for renewal every day, every week, every month and every year. It is up to us to seize those opportunities. We read in these most recent parshiyot that Pharaoh did not seize those opportunities. Will our hearts be hardened to opportunity or will we be open to them?
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Aaron Bergman. He says that we will be discussing the fact that “Egypt was once the greatest of all empires, but Pharaoh’s arrogance during the story of the Exodus brought down his country, a downfall from which they have never fully recovered even to this day. We will also think about how this applies to politics in our own day.” He is calling this talk, “How to destroy your country in ten easy steps-How Pharaoh’s ego ruined Egypt.” 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
I hope to see you there.