Rosh Hodesh Elul Torah Essay
Shanee Hadad (nee Mali)
The Missing Seder: New Year For the Animals and a Reminder of Their Importance
How many new years does the Jewish calendar contain? And how are these special days marked?
The Mishna describes four new years in our calendar, each with its own theme:
- Nissan, new year for the counting of kings and the order of the festivals
- Elul, new year for the tithing of domesticated animals
- Tishrei, new year for counting the years, shmita, etc.
- Shevat, new year for the trees
In our times, many people celebrate three of the four new years through some sort of seder. The seder of Nissan (not on the exact day of the new year, but close) is obviously Pesach, filled with much ritual and symbolism. As well, many people have all sorts of simanim for their seder Rosh Hashana, different foods to help us connect to our hopes for the coming year. Tu B’Shevat is where we embrace the wonderful fruits and wines of our country, and here again we have a seder that is full of symbols.
So which new year is missing its seder?
Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals.
Why do we have this new year, and how was it implemented in the past?
The Torah commands us to bring the firsts of not only produce, but of animals as well, to delight in them with Hashem at His chosen place. The tithe for animals began on the first of the month of Elul.
The Mishna describes how the young animals would be gathered to one place and then let through a gate one at a time. Every tenth animal would be marked as the tithe, and would then have to be brought to Jerusalem to be eaten.
The Rambam mentions that the sages have forbidden animals to be tithed in our days as we have no temple, and there is a worry that we will eat the consecrated parts as well, being that we have nowhere to bring them to.
So what does this mean for us? Well, times have begun to change. Just as Tu B’Shevat has become a source and catalyst for raising environmental awareness, Rosh Chodesh Elul, the new year for animal tithes, has become a day to educate about issues surrounding animals, like the issur of tza’ar ba’alei chaim.
The Torah is replete with examples of the importance and care that is to be given to animals.
After the the flood, not only does the Torah say that Hashem remembers man, but in the same pasuk Hashem remembers the animals that are with Noach.
Additionally we see that the Torah not only commands us to allow our animals to rest on Shabbat, but there are special injunctions that are in place to ensure we don’t abuse them.
For example, we are not to have an ox and a donkey plow together. Ibn Ezra posits that this is because the donkey is weaker than the ox and will therefore endure much hardship. Chizkuni brings that opinion, as well as pointing out that because the ox is constantly eating/chewing its cud, that donkey must exert himself even more.
From all of these examples, we see that animals are important from G-d’s perspective.
In light of the above, in recent times there is a movement to make Rosh Chodesh Elul a day about our relationship to animals, and their place in our lives has begun to grow stronger. Not only do animals provide food and clothes for many people, they also provide companionship and service for many.
As of yet, this fourth new year is still missing an established seder like the others have, but perhaps in the years to come, as more and more people are recognizing the myriad of concerns that surround our treatment of animals, a seder will be established.
I wish you all a Chodesh Tov and hope that you will take some time to think about the place of animals in your personal lives! As it say in Mishlei, “יוֹדֵ֣עַ צַ֭דִּיק נֶ֣פֶשׁ בְּהֶמְתּ֑וֹי׃, A righteous man knows the needs of his beast”