Rosh Chodesh Nissan Torah Essay - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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Rosh Chodesh Nissan Torah Essay

Rivka Mazal Tauber

As we enter Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we mark the commencement of our lunar calendar, as Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael in their transition from slavery to peoplehood and redemption:

“החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים”  -This month shall be for you a head of all months.

Usually, when we think about the commandments, we think of them as acts that we perform FOR God. How does this mitzvah, the  sanctification of the moon accomplish this – what are we doing for God? And why is this important for us now, on the precipice of freedom?

To understand the relationship between the Jewish people and the moon, we must go back to the very beginning, to the creation of celestial bodies on the fourth day of the creation of the world.

וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔-ים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה… (בראשית, א’, ט”ז)

The Talmud, (חולין דף ס’ ע’ב) comments, asking, which was it? Were these two luminaries both great lights or were they created one larger than the other?

The Gemara continues by telling of a fascinating drama that occurs between the newly created moon and her Creator:

“When God first created the sun and the moon, they were equally bright. Then, the moon said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, is it possible for two kings to serve with one crown? One of us must be subservient to the other. God therefore said to her, i.e., the moon: If so, go and diminish yourself. She said before Him: Master of the Universe, since I said a correct observation before You, must I diminish myself?”

Ultimately, though the moon diminished herself as commanded, Hashem offered the moon three pacifications.

  1. That she will rule both during the day just as she does in the night.
  2. That the Jewish people will count their calendar by her.
  3. That there will be other greats who will be called small just like her , namely, Shmuel Hakatan and David Hakatan

But the moon was not comforted. To each pacification, she countered, unsatisfied.

The Gemara continues:  “God saw that the moon was not comforted. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Bring atonement for me, since I diminished the moon.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the messages depicted through the Talmud’s discussion of the drama involving the moon. The sun, he explains,  represents the concept  of giving, for the sun gives the light that the moon reflects. The moon represents the energy of receiving in this world.  The moon was justifiably saying to Hashem, “if we both shine equal light in the world as two kings, then there will  be no motivation for giving. If the world is a clear display that giving and receiving is not due to a lack of power- what will motivate others to give?”

And so, Hashem commanded the moon to diminish herself in the eyes of others,  but to Hashem, they remain the same- they are always equal. To us, the teacher seems greater than the student, the rich greater than the poor, the sun greater than the moon. They still remain “Two great luminaries” before Hashem.

It is only the way that it appears to us that creates the cycle of giving. But the moon argues back, saying “Why do I need to be the one to carry this burden just because I noticed it?”

Ultimately, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, though Hashem attempted to pacify the moon, this did not satisfy the core challenge and contention of the  moment, a deep question of creation: why must it be so?

And to that, Hakadosh Baruch Hu responds: I know it seems unfair from your perspective. Please offer up a sin offering for me each month, for creating a world that seems to be unbalanced. For making the work so intense and confusing.

It is in this dynamic that Hashem asks something simple from the moon, and really from us.  Hashem asks the moon to be present and work with Hashem’s plan ; andlike the moon for us to receive light. Accept upon ourselves the mitzvot. Show up.

And so, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem. This month will be for you. A reminder to work with Hashem’s plan, to learn about giving and receiving, even if it doesn’t always suit us.

As we come into peoplehood, as we are redeemed from Egypt, Hashem tells us: Sanctify the moon. See her in the light she shines, and notice that even when she is smaller, even as she is receiving, she is still this great luminary.

Her light shines as she is renewed each month.

When you look to the moon, she will teach you how to shine in this world, in this relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  She will teach you to wax and wane, she will teach you to be constant in your movement.

The moon, created in the very beginning, waited for Bnei Yisrael to sanctify her, so they could learn this lesson.

And so, through this message we ready ourselves to  leave Egypt and become Hashem’s people. We move into freedom, recognizing that our role in this world is to be a receiver, to be in this moment.

In every generation we need to see ourselves as if we left Egypt, and in every month we need to be present for the passage of time that the moon holds within her, until the day when the light of the moon once again shines brightly to all of Creation like the light of the sun.

(Based on the Sicha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos Vol 30, page 8-15.)

Rivka Mazal Tauber

Rivka Mazal Tauber

is originally from Brooklyn NY and now lives in Yerushalayim where she is a student in the Matan Bellows Educators Institute. She is a teacher and writer, who worked at Menachem Education Foundation, Cheder Chabad NJ, and at Charity Studio.