The Last Rosh Chodesh Before Geulah

We’re living through a strange time in Jewish history. So much is going on all at once, and yet, in the past few weeks it feels like things are slowing down. Everything is happening, nothing is changing. We’re still holding our breath, wondering when or if we’ll be able to come up for air.

Some days it seems as if the national pastime of the Jewish people is refreshing the news feeds. Hoping, waiting, yearning for something. Not a day goes by without wondering what’s happening to the hostages? Is there any news? Any progress?And what’s going on in the North? What does all of this mean? How long until we see something with any clarity?

We feel the tensions brewing, the news cycles spinning. We’re trying to continue life with conviction and positivity, without getting cynical, frustrated or desensitized. Is there anything we can do to feel a little less helpless? A little less burnt out?

The truth is, however, that in a way, we’ve all been here before. This is not the first time we have walked on that narrow bridge from exile to redemption in the darkness of night. I imagine this is exactly how our ancestors felt during their final months in Mitzraim.

It’s a funny thing to consider it because we’re often blinded by our familiarity with the story of the Exodus. But they didn’t know that there would be ten plagues. No one gave them a time line; no pre-prints of the Hagaddah in Egypt. Who knew what was going to transpire? Perhaps there might have been more plagues, or maybe less? Perhaps some of those world shattering events would indeed harm some Jews. Was every Jew worthy of being saved? No one knew. No one would dare to predict what might happen next.

As far as individual Jews were concerned, I imagine that the supernatural and systematic destruction of Mitzrayim was probably a cause for perpetual anxiety. Who knows when or if some Egyptians might retaliate? Sure, Hashem is taking care of things. But what about me and my family? What are our next steps? Even with the miracles of the plagues, Hashem’s plans were still concealed in the fog of the unknown future.

Chazal tell us that the ten plagues lasted for a full year, and throughout that time, and while Moshe, Aharon and the Zekeinim has a role to play, most of Klal Yisrael were observers.

Until Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

On that fateful day, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to tell us: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים – This month is the head of all months. Somehow, this single mitzvah holds within it the beginnings of freedom, autonomy, safety and the destiny of being Am Yisrael.

Many mitzvos would follow in due course; Korban Pesach, Matzah and Marror; the blood on the door posts. But it all begins with Rosh Chodesh. The obligation to count Jewish time from the first day of Nisan.

The P’shat of this mitzvah, as the Seforno (שמות יב ב) explains, is that freedom begins with control over our own time. Slaves are bound to use their time for the will of their masters, but liberation entails the ability to choose how to utilize this most precious of commodities.

But the Beis Avraham adds a level of understanding that might assist us in confronting the confusion of this moment in our lives:

“This month will give you a new Rosh – a new head. New thoughts, new perspectives and new understandings. Even if one’s head is filled with destruction, confusion, lowliness and heresy, in this month, one can become a new person.”

Redemption is introduced this month by inviting us to think differently about time, purpose and ourselves. Rosh Chodesh grants us the chance to acquire a “new head”, a new way of thinking.

This Avoda is not limited to the singular day of Rosh Chodesh Nisan alone; it continues throughout the month. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה – this entire month should be רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים, days of Rosh Chodesh. Every day of Nisan is like a Rosh Chodesh. Every day is laying the foundation for the rest of the year. Each moment of Nisan is a chance to rethink and reconsider the way we live and act and think and feel.

In the midst of the fog, the frustration and confusion, Nisan charges us with the obligation to rethink our circumstances.

Nisan, like Tishrei is a time for reflection, introspection and reevaluation. Chazal tells us that Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also a Rosh Hashana; this too is a beginning.

The Berdichever explains Nisan is also a time when Hashem judges the world, but the points of evaluation are very different:

וכן הוא בתשרי השם יתברך דן את העולם אם הם אוהבים אותו ויראים ממנו, ובניסן השם יתברך דן את העולם אם הם אוהבים את בני ישראל. ולכך פרעה שעשה רעה לישראל לקה הקב”ה אותו בזה החודש.

On Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei, Hashem judges to see if the world loves Him and fears Him. In Nisan, however, Hashem judges each and every person to determine their love the Jewish people. For this reason, Paroah met his downfall in this month.

During Nisan, Hashem is looking at humanity and examining each person and each nation, asking how much do you love Klal Yisrael? This year in particular, it has not been difficult to see where nations and people are holding with regards to this question. The answers have broadcast on the news for the past six months.

But it’s important to know that this question is not only for the nations of the world. We need to address it as well. Hashem is also asking each one of us how much do we love, respect and value each and every member of Klal Yisrael. The answer to this question for this Nisan is also not hard to assess. But we still have work to do.

The greatest damage of Egyptian exile was the thought and feeling that we were slaves. The we deserved to be slaves. Chazal tells us that the extent of this psychological conditioning was so severe that no slave ever attempted to escape Egypt.

It’s hard to love yourself when you don’t believe your life is worthwhile. It’s hard to love others when you think of them in the same way. So Hashem challenged us then, and He is challenging us now, once again: How much do you love and value every Jew?

The Sfas Emes (שבת הגדול תרמ”ג) explains:

כמ”ש ואעבור עליך כו'. שראה שאין בידם זכות ונתן להם דם פסח כו'. כמו כן בכל שנה בימים אלו מחפשין זכותן של בנ”י.

When Hashem redeemed His people from Mitzraim, He searched for their merits, and found the merits of Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. Likewise, every year at this time, we need to seek out the merits of the Jewish people.

More than any Nisan in our lifetime, this Nisan is asking us to get a Rosh Chadash – A new head. To think differently about Hashem, His world and His Torah. If we’re feeling stuck, if we feel that the world is stalling, it’s time for a new head.

Hashem is asking us to learn how to seek out and find the merits of each and every Jew, beginning with ourselves. Redemption is ‘round the corner. May we merit to see it soon.