Slave Mentality by Moe Weiss


After decades of cruelty, punishment, and slavery, Bnei Yisrael had finally left Egypt. Throughout the beginning of Shemot, the dramatic Exodus had begun with God’s revelation to Moshe, the ten plagues, and the commandment of the Pesach offering However, the story of the Jews' flight from Egypt is interrupted by the God’s seemingly irrelevant commandment to declare the month’s beginning: "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) The obvious question is, what is the purpose of Rosh Chodesh, and why has Hashem decided to give it to the Jews at this specific time?

Rav Soloveitchik explains that the answer lies in the nature of the Rosh Chodesh mitzvah and its relation to the consequences of the Jews' exodus. For example, when one is held in bondage, as the Jews were in Egypt, time has no relevance; a slave's time is bound to his master’s schedule. As such, a slave’s natural reaction is to ignore time because he does not possess his own right to time. To contrast this image, imagine a hard-working individual who needs to work long hours just to put food on the table for his family. Such an individual views each quantum of time as a precious gold mine; this mentality allows him to accomplish his goals.

Through this picture, it is clear to see the logic behind the placement of the mitzvah of sanctifying the moon, amidst Bnei Yisrael’s pivotal transition from the torturous conditions as worthless slaves to individual servants of the Creator. The Rav explains that now, because Bnei Yisrael left the slave conditions of Egypt, they must realize the importance of worldly time and of utilizing every second in service to Hashem and in performance of His Mitzvot. This transition from total slavery to individual servitude of Hashem was only the beginning of Hashem's elaborate plan to mold the Jewish people into His people.

The recitation of Parashat HaChodesh is oftentimes recited after the lengthy double Parashah of Vayakhel-Pekudei. The theme of these two Parashot is the creation of the Mishkan and the holy vestments donned by Aharon, his sons, and all future Kohanim. However, it is seems strange for the Torah in Shemot to detail these two commandments twice. Once again, a reason for such seemingly useless repetition lies in Parashat HaChodesh, the Jews' exodus from Egypt; and the maturation process of Bnei Yisrael as they leave the slave mentality.

When Bnei Yisrael was given the mitzvah of HaChodesh, the pasuk used the words, “Shall be for you.” This wording shows that the first step in the Jews' growth was an individual endeavor for Bnei Yisrael, to individually cede their existence to the glorification of Hashem. This statement represents a part of the Jewish philosophy, constituting a core value of Judaism, to praise Hashem in a communal fashion. It is for this reason that there is a special mitzvah to daven with a minyan. Creating an atmosphere of praise and love of Hashem is far superior to simple individual endeavors.

The maturation process of Bnei Yisrael then aligns with the core philosophy of communal service. This philosophy is seen in this week’s juxtaposition of Bnei Yisrael’s first step in maturity (HaChodesh) to the greatest manner in which we can praise Hashem in the communal fashion, (the Mishkan and Holy vestments of the Kohanim.) The Jews move to the next level of closeness to Hashem, away from the slave mentality of Egypt. Once again, the Jews use our time involving ourselves in the communal needs of Bnei Yisrael such as, Tzedakah, davening for the sick, Gemilut Chassadim, etc.

The final step in the process of coming closer to Hashem can be achieved only when the Jews are able to combine the two ideas of individual and communal praise and service of Hashem. This combination of roles is found with the Pesach offering. The Torah commands people to form a group to consume the offering, while each individual has a personal obligation in the consumption of the sacrificial meat. We learn from this connection between the two major aspects of Judaism, individualism and communalism, the ultimate way for us to serve Hashem is in a complete manner.

We must internalize and eternalize the concept of Parashat Hachodesh, and live the message it portrays: the true method in which we can leave the slave mentality in the past is to engage in the righteous path towards connecting with Hashem.

“Ishei Reiach Nichoach” – All Mitzvot Count By Rabbi Ezra Wiener

Timeless Commands by Dovid Gottesman