Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Parshat ha-Chodesh and its link with Pesach

Parshat ha-Chodesh, the last of four special Torah readings before Pesach develops the theme of kidush ha-hodesh. Chazal frequently attest to the unique status and stature of this mitzvah. Indeed, as Rashi (Bereshit 1:1) citing the midrash notes, it would have been appropriate for the Torah itself to have begun with kidush ha-chodesh if not for the pressing need to establish Kelal Yisrael's legal claim to Eretz Yisrael by means of the creation account. Kidush ha-Chodesh, in fact, represents the first mitzvah addressed to the collective community of Kelal Yisrael. The spiritual dimension of kidush ha-Chodesh is alluded to when the midrash declares: "kol ha-mekadesh ha-chodesh be-zemano ke-ilu me-kabel penai ha-Shechinah". While the basic connection between this reading and Pesach is evident, as Nissan is the first of the months, it is possible that the unique character of this mitzvah also contributes to and enhances our commemoration and celebration of Pesach.

Kidush ha-Chodesh marks an important transition in the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish nation. It exemplifies a significant expansion of the covenant. By entrusting the nation with the designation and determination of time by means of kidush ha-chodesh, Hashem, in effect, demanded of Klal Yisrael a more active and responsible role in their own destiny. The midrash (Shemot Rabah 15:3) expresses this clearly, recording a conversation between Hashem and his heavenly retinue in which the angels are informed that Klal Yisrael will henceforth dictate the moadim: "amar la-hem ani ve-attem naskim al mah she-yisrael gomrin...im amartem hen hen; im amartem lav lav". Through the institution of kidush ha-chodesh, Hashem bestowed no less than a measure of autonomy, independence and initiative to Klal Yisrael. It is no coincidence that yeziat Mitzrayim, in which a loosely federated people was transformed into a unified nation with a collective destiny, is tied to kidush ha-chodesh.

The motif of autonomy and initiative reflected in kidush ha-chodesh is reflected in two realms that are critical to Jewish existence. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l (Gesher vol. I) has developed the theme that time-awareness is crucial to freedom and liberation. The slave is prototypical of non-time-conscious man since his time is not his own. He is excluded from time-bound mitzvot (mitzvot aseh she-hazeman gerama) because he has no sensitivity to time. By authorizing the Jewish people to designate the new month, Hashem endowed them with dignity and liberty that accompanies time-consciousness. The link to chag ha-cherut is self-evident.

This license also reflects Klal Yisrael's initiative in the halachic realm. The midrash connects the authority to sanctify the new moon with the legacy of Torah itself : "Maggid devarav le-Yaakov- zu Torah; chukav u-mishpatav le-yisrael- zu kidush ha-chodesh she-yesh ba-hem chukim u-mishpatim." On a practical level, kidush ha-chodesh obviously has great impact, as it determines the date of moadim, affecting all related halachot. More significantly, kidush ha-chodesh emerges as a powerful symbol of halachic initiative and responsibility. "Lachem- bein shogegin, bein mutaiin, bein anusin, harei zeh mekudash". This theme projects the independence and self-sufficiency of the halachic process reflected by such principles as "lo ba-shamayim hi"(B. M. 59b) and "ein navi rashai le-chadesh davar me-atah" (Megillah 3a).

This concept, however, should not be misconstrued. Halachic initiative and independence exists only within defined parameters and the specific framework established by the halachic system itself. Kidush ha-Chodesh itself is by no means arbitrary or indiscriminate. It follows strict procedures that include testimony, investigation, calculations, formal judicial pronouncements etc. Any deviation from normative protocols may render the sanctification invalid. Moreover, the range of acceptable options is limited in kidush ha-chodesh, as it is in other domains of halacha. With respect to the calendar specifically, only the 30th or 31st day may qualify as Rosh Chodesh. As is true for halacha generally, ultimate authority for kidush ha-chodesh is granted and entrusted to those select scholars who are attuned and sensitive to halachic nuances (See, for example, Rambam, hil. kidush ha-chodesh 1:5; Sefer ha-Mitzvot, esin, no. 153, and Ramban ad. loc).

The institution of kidush ha-chodesh recorded in Parshat ha-Chodesh is more than just an introduction to the commemoration of yetziat Mitzrayim. By underscoring Klal Yisrael's calendar role, the Torah demonstrates the transition from slavery to authentic liberation that includes time-consciousness. As a paradigm for independent, responsible halachic initiative, kidush ha-chodesh further projects the well- known rabbinic theme that true liberation consists of a total commitment to the study of Torah and halachic observance. Klal Yisrael's expanded role, its assumption of greater initiative and independence in the pursuit of greater submission to the Divine Will ultimately paved to road to mattan Torah.

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