The Month of our Redemption, New Beginnings
By Elisheva Tavor
The Joy of Spring and New Life
We are fast approaching the end of the month of Adar. It was this month in which we celebrated the joyous Feast of Purim at the time of the full moon and the miraculous saving of the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of the wicked Haman, a prototype of the arch enemy Amalek! The month of Adar is the month in which we are called upon to increase our joy!
And on its heels comes yet another new moon marking another new month and an even greater redemption …the month of Aviv or Nissan…often referred to as the month of New Beginnings…and so the cycle continues and we begin again!
King Solomon heralds this new beginning in these poetic words, “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear in the earth, and the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Shir ha Sharim/Songs of Songs 2:11-12).
In his book, ‘Judaism Eternal,’ Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch refers to Israel as “the messenger of spring to man and to mankind… the messenger of a springtime which is to be newly discovered on earth by every person in every time and place.” When springtime comes and we see the awakening of nature all around us, it heralds an internal wake-up call for mankind as well; for it is a time of new life and new birth, a time when all things become new… a time of new beginnings…even in these troublesome times…
The Head of the Months…”the First For You!”
It is significant that it is during this season of the year that HaShem speaks these words to His servant Moshe, “This month shall be for you the head of the months; it is the first for you of the months of the year (Shemot, Exodus 12:2).
We ask the question…why? Why is this month, the month known as Nissan on the Jewish calendar and referred to as the First Month so significant and why did HaShem appoint it as the Head or the First of all the months? Surely this extraordinary statement indicates some very special sparks…hidden sparks beneath the surface!
When HaShem says, this month is for you, it is as if to say, it is your very own! We know from reading the account in Exodus that to these Hebrew slaves who basically owned nothing, this month did indeed become their “very own”…for it was given over to them…given over to them as the month of their redemption, the month when HaShem delivered them from their oppressors and brought them out of the land of Egypt, that narrow place called Mitzrayim in Hebrew. It was a new beginning! They were given specific instructions to teach this story to their children (Exodus12:8) and pass it down, dor v dor, from generation to generation…so that “you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life”(Deuteronomy 16:3).It is also part of the ‘Six Remembrances” prayed daily as part of the Morning Service in synagogues all over the world today. HaShem wanted it to stay new and fresh in their minds. According to the sages in rabbinic literature, each generation to come was to count it as if they too had come out of Egypt!
And now the story of this incredible redemption has down come to us because we have attached ourselves (devekut, like glue) to HaShem, to His Torah and to the Jewish people. As HaShem’s words, “this month is for you,” and His promise of deliverance resonates through the ages, we too can claim it for our very own for we each have our own Mitzrayim… our own bondage…the things which enslave us…this month and the Festival of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) challenge and empower us to break forth from those bonds! This month offers us a new beginning!
A New Beginning
Eliyahu Kitov, one of the most acclaimed religious authors of Jewish history and the Jewish way of life teaches that prior to the day of redemption, the people counted from the month of Tishrei, biblically the 7th month, which according to Jewish tradition marked the creation of the world. “The day of redemption,” he says, “is greater than the day of birth” (The Book of our Heritage, Vol. II, p 123).
There is much significance to the very first day of the 1st month. We read in Genesis 8:5, for example, that in the days of Noach, it was on the first day of the first month that the flood waters HaShem sent to cleanse the earth began to dry up…thus offering the earth a New Beginning.
Jewish tradition teaches that all three Patriarchs, Avraham, Itzkak and Ya’akov all died on this day, but not before they had fulfilled their life’s mission for HaShem and His people.
HaShem told Moshe to set up the Tabernacle in the wilderness with all its furnishings on the 1st day of the first month (Exodus 40:1).
11 Chron.25:1-5 gives the account of King Hezekiah instructing the priests to cleanse and sanctify the sanctuary that had been desecrated…it had been a dark time for the Jewish people. It is noteworthy that we read the priests first “sanctified themselves …this is a good lesson for us today.
Going back to our text in Exodus 12:2, “This month shall be for you the head of the months; it is the first for you of the months of the year “(looking at the Hebrew letters in the words for you (lachem) are the same letters as those in the word, king (melech), which the sages say indicate that we must honor this month, the month of Nisan/Aviv more than any other month…it is the King of all the other months…the Rosh…the Head. HaShem speaks of is as the FIRST of all the other months!
The Significance of the Names and the Counting of the Months
There are three names for this month: (1) Hachodesh harishon -The Head of the Months, The First Month (Exodus 12:2) (2) Chodesh ha’Aviv -The Month of Spring which indicates new beginnings, new life. The Hebrew letters in Aviv mean “the head of twelve” the head of all the 12 months of the year. (3) Nissan- Babylonian origin yet connects with concept of spring for it bears resemblance to Hebrew word nitzan or bud. It is also connected to the Hebrew word nes, meaning miracle. The Jewish sages point out that it is noteworthy that the Hebrew letter nun at the end of Nissan adds to the connotation of the word in that it signifies ongoing! So the miracles of the Exodus, they assert, are ongoing and reach forward into the future and have the potential of allowing us to tap into them today!
Biblically speaking, all the months are counted from this month and for the most part are named accordingly… such as the first month, the second, and the third until we reach the 12th and last month (Adar)…and then the cycle begins all over again. Counting in this manner calls to our memory this special First Month, the Month of our Redemption and enables us to remember the departure from Egypt “all the days of our lives,” as put forth in Deuteronomy 16:4.
It is interesting to note that in Judaism, this method of counting is also employed for the days of the week, for each day is counted from the Sabbath with Sunday being the first day from Sabbath, Monday the 2nd day from Sabbath, etc., until we reach ”yom ha shi shi,” the 6th day…and then it is the 7th day, the Sabbath again!
So as we bring the remembrance of the Sabbath continuously into our consciousness each day, we can also bring the remembrance of the miraculous Redemption from Egypt back into our hearts and minds with each new moon!
Redemption and the New Moon – Emerging from Darkness into Light
The word redemption applies only to one who emerges from darkness into light, for it is from the lowest depths…the deepest darkness that new life springs forth and offers a New Beginning, a new birth!
With the appearance of the tiny sliver of the New Moon in the nighttime sky each month, comes a reminder that we too, like the moon, can experience new birth and arise from whatever darkness surrounds us.
Rabbi Jacobson in an article entitled ‘The Mystery of the New Moon’ makes a connection between the waxing and waning of the moon to the ups and downs of history and to life in general. During the time of the long Egyptian exile,” the moon,” he says, “was dark indeed. By commanding Moses to sanctify the new moon, G-d was in effect imparting to Moses the power of renewal: Just as the moon is reborn right after it disappears, so too will the Jewish people experience a renaissance following their darkest moments.”
The Relevance for Us Today
Herein lies a lesson for all of us, one that has been repeated over and over throughout the pages of history. Eliyah Kitov offers some very poignant and inspiring words, “As we read the story of the Exodus, the ‘book in which Israel goes from darkness of light’ – the story of process, the process of loss and renewal, of suffering and growth, the process of death and birth – we can gather in our own lives much fortitude from the events that took place 3329 years ago.”
Remember the poignant words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks when he said that most often we only see the Divine Providence of HaShem as we look backwards, but we must live our lives forwards!
As the time is fast approaching for this New Moon of the First Month to appear, we can use this amazing opportunity to think on all of these things. We can go outside and gaze upward into the darkness of the night sky. As we search for the tiny sliver of the new moon, although often not entirely visible at first, we can be assured that it is there, just as HaShem our G-d and Creator who created it is always there…within our world, working behind the scenes…and within each of us challenging us to delve more deeply into ourselves and to discover more of those hidden sparks that lie just beneath the surface both within ourselves and in the world around us!
May we like the moon renew ourselves! May we be a light in the darkness and go from strength to strength as we reach out and encourage and help one another, knowing that our G-d and Creator can carry us through any challenge, even that of all of the current crises that are threatening our sad, troubled world…both at home and abroad!
What connection is there between the moon’s renewal and the Egyptian Exodus? The connection is of course Passover!!! More to come in Part Two! Happy Rosh Chodesh!
By Elisheva Tavor, 25 Beit Adar 5782 (March 27, 2022)
(This year Rosh Chodesh Aviv/Nissan – the First Month will begin at sundown this Friday evening, March 29, Erev Shabbat and extend through Saturday at sundown, April 1).