What is so special about Rosh Chodesh that it is given the honor of being the first Mitzvah Bnei Yisrael receive?
Seforno and Rav Soloveitchik both say that Hashem gave this Mitzvah first because it is time related. As slaves, Bnei Yisrael had no temporal freedom, and by Hashem giving them a time-based Mitzvah He shows Bnei Yisrael that they are no longer slaves. Once they realize they are free, they can receive the rest of the Mitzvot and worship Hashem.
Ramban writes that Hashem wanted the months to link back to Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, the Exodus. By giving Rosh Chodesh here Hashem is linking everything back to Yetzi’at Mitzrayim. The month Bnei Yisrael leave is the first month, and all months after will be counted with Yetzi’at Mitzrayim as the reference point. This is similar to a first date: The second, third, and fourth dates are all counted in terms of the first date.too with Yetzi’at Mitzrayim: The month we left is the first month, and all other months are in terms of the month when we were redeemed, focusing our entire dating system on Yetzi’at Mitzrayim.
Rav Shamshon Refa’el Hirsch writes that the new month and accompanying new moon symbolize the formation of the new nation of Klal Yisrael. Until now Bnei Yisrael had been just a people who were slaves under the Egyptians, but the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh transformed them into a nation. This can be taken a step further by pointing out that, in essence, every month and the accompanying new moon represents the rejuvenation of the Jews. Rosh Chodesh is given first because the coming together of Bnei Yisrael as a nation sets the stage for further Mitzvot.
Rav Hirsch gives another answer in his introduction to Shemot (Perek 12). Rav Hirsch quotes the Pasuk (VaYikra 23:4), “Eileh Mo’adei Hashem Mikra’ei Kodesh Asher Tikre’u Otam BeMo’adam,” “These are the appointed seasons [holidays] of Hashem, days of holy convocation that are to be proclaimed at their times.” He continues by saying that the Shoresh (root) of the word “Mo’eid” is “Ya’ad”, which means to call a meeting. Rosh Chodesh is for us to meet Hashem and form a relationship with Him, and it differs from all other holidays because we, Klal Yisrael, must declare the exact time. Bnei Yisrael are in effect given the power to decide when to “meet” Hashem, which we do by declaring Rosh Chodesh at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Unlike court cases that are put before the Sanhedrin, where a fact may sometimes be established by one witness, the sighting of the new moon always requires twowitnesses, just like in cases of personal relationships, such as signing a Ketubah. By accepting His invitation and declaring Rosh Chodesh, we agree to meet Hashem and form a relationship with Him. Almost every other holiday in the Torah has a set date; Rosh Chodesh is one of the few exceptions.
While Rav Hirsch’s idea is a very nice one, how does it impact our set calendar nowadays? No longer is Rosh Chodesh unique among the holidays and no longer does the Sanhedrin effect Rosh Chodesh; instead, our Rosh Chodesh is decided by calendar, just like the rest of the holidays. How can we defend our use of a calendar if it undermines the purpose of Bnei Yisrael being Mekadeshim the Chodesh?
Rav Hirsch explains that a calendar does not interfere with the “meeting” mentality of Rosh Chodesh. Hillel created the calendar we use today because he knew that the Jews would eventually be so spread out they would be unable to be Mekadeish the Chodesh together. Furthermore, Hillel foresaw that Semichah (the Rabbinical ordination in an unbroken chain beginning with Hashem to Moshe, which, unfortunately, has been broken) might one day be lost and there would be no more Sanhedrin to declare Rosh Chodesh to the world.nowadays it is impossible for someone to get real Semichah (although Rambam puts forward a plan where it could be reinstituted), there cannot be a Sanhedrin to declare Rosh Chodesh. Hillel made the calendar to avoid such a problem by pre-setting Rosh Chodesh. As a result, Rosh Chodesh every month has already been declared by the Sanhedrin, even though it was done prematurely by calculation.
A second reason we may be allowed to use a calendar has to do with the celebration of a second day of Rosh Chodesh outside of Eretz Yisrael. Once people were scattered beyond Eretz Yisrael, no one knew on time what day Rosh Chodesh was. As such, a second day was instituted for certain months to ensure that all of Bnei Yisrael could celebrate together. When all of Klal Yisrael celebrates Rosh Chodesh together, they unite as one nation and meet Hashem to form a relationship with Him.a calendar now seems completely logical; much like a second day of Rosh Chodesh, it ensures that all of Bnei Yisrael celebrate together.
Based on this second explanation of Rav Hirsch, as well as some passages from the Haggadah, we can see a connection between Rosh Chodesh and Pesach. The Haggadah, instead of using a very clear paragraph from Parashat Bo (where Yetzi’at Mitzrayim takes place) quotes the vague passage (Devarim 26:5) “Arami Oveid Avi…,” ”My father was a wandering Aramean…” to describe that very event. This passage is not only vague, but even goes on to the ostensibly unrelated topic of Bikurim. Why? Rav Twersky answers that there is a strong connection between the Beit HaMikdash and Egypt. The song “Dayeinu” sung at the Seder illustrates this connection. The song begins with Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt and ends with the building of the Beit HaMikdash. From here we see that the purpose of leaving Egypt was to eventually build the Beit HaMikdash and serve Hashem from there. The Bikurim, which are discussed in the context of “Arami Oveid Avi,” were brought to the Beit HaMikdash, and the farmers would recite this paragraph when they presented their produce. The ultimate goal of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim was to serve Hashem and grow close to Him, and it therefore makes sense that our Exodus would be prefaced by a Mitzvah designed to bring us close to Hashem.
This Pesach we will sit together to celebrate, just as our forefathers celebrated together in the holy city of Yerushalayim. Just as we do on Rosh Chodesh, as we go over the story of Mitzrayim we should try to form a special bond with Hashem through all that He has done for us. The month of Nisan is considered the month of the Ge’ulah, salvation. May we be Zocheh to form a stronger connection to Hashem and with each other, to experience theultimate’ulah in the month of the Ge’ulah, and to celebrate this year and many years to come in the holy city of Yerushalayim, just as we did years ago.