In addition to this week’s regular Parasha, we will read the last of the Arbaah Parashiot, Parashat HaChodesh. Not coincidentally, we also prepare for Rosh Chodesh this week through a special Tefillah, during which we announce the date and time of the coming new month. This is an interesting moment: Rosh Chodesh itself includes no mention of the month’s name or characteristics. The day of Rosh Chodesh is the same each month, no matter which month it commences. But on Shabbat, we discuss the month itself. This lends the Shabbat preceding a Rosh Chodesh some characteristics of the month to come. Before Chodesh Nissan, the special Parashat HaChodesh gives us an even stronger link to the coming of the first of the months and the beginning of a new cycle of Regalim. What can we gain from this juxtaposition?
Rashi famously wonders, in his commentary on the Torah’s very first Pasuk, why we do not start with Parashat HaChodesh, the first Mitzvah commanded to Bnei Yisrael. This question should astonish us: why would we not start with the creation of the world? Why would Rosh Chodesh be a more appropriate beginning? His answer is no less bewildering: that the nations of the world should know Hashem created Eretz Yisrael and bequeathed it to Bnai Yisrael, legitimizing our claim to the land promised to us. Why would the nations trust our bible? And why would that explain putting Bereishit – literally, the beginning – at the beginning?
The answer to this question helps us understand the conflict between Zeman and Makom, time and place, expressed in many aspects of Halacha and Jewish philosophy. Rosh Chodesh is an expression of power given to the Jewish people by Hashem. He allows us to control time – whenever we declare Rosh Chodesh, even if we are technically wrong, Hashem declares it with us. Shabbat, an acknowledgment of Hashem’s creation of the world (place), comes every seven days whether we like it or not. Yom Tov corresponds to Bnai Yisrael’s declaration of Rosh Chodesh (time). On Shabbat, as one of my Rebbeim used to say, Hashem invites us into His house. On Yom Tov, because we declare the day and we determine the system, we invite Hashem into our house.
This is an incredible power. It is so incredible, in fact, that Rashi considered it to be worthy of being the very first discussion in the Torah. But Rashi knew why it was relegated to the point of Bnai Yisrael’s founding as a nation, later in Sefer Shemot. Bereishit discusses the critical aspect of Makom, place, made holy by Hashem’s decree that Eretz Yisrael is the land, and no other, that will be ours forever – a decree regardless of time, as it was made by the Eternal. When it comes to the Shalosh Regalim, we combine these two critical aspects of our religion: a holy place at a holy time.
One of my favorite pastimes in school is talking to Dr. Berman, the Chairman of the Science Department at TABC, about the trends in science and how they can better help us understand this world. In the past, scientists sought to prove that our world, our sun, our galaxy were so typical, so common, so plebeian that we were nothing special. Perhaps this idea appealed to their sense of loneliness – if a world like ours is common, then maybe we are not alone, not special. They are recently discovering, however, that our planet and sun are so unusual, the conditions under which we exist so singular, that our mere existence is a statistical impossibility. Hashem’s determination of location was done for us.
All that remains is for us to dedicate the time. In Nissan, at the beginning of a new quarter, a new month, a new cycle of Yamim Tovim, we have a new chance to explore the world around us, and hope that this time will feel as special as we can make it.