Shabbat Ha-Hodesh

By Rabbi Robert Waxman

The additional Torah reading for this Shabbat of Ha-Hodesh – “This month…” (Ex. 12:1-20), falls on Rosh Hodesh Nisan or the Shabbat preceding. The Shabbat has awesome responsibilities. It announces the new moon and the new month of Nisan which is the first of the months. Ha-Hodesh tells us to get ready for Passover, which falls in the middle of Nisan. Spring is here. Now is the time to get ready to plant the spring crops.

This can be a spiritual time for us. Spring is associated with new buds on trees, new plants, full of green, popping up and seeking the warmth of the rays of sunlight after resting during the winter months. As we walk around slowly, we have the opportunity to marvel how the organisms of the earth know that it is time for re-birth. Last month, on February 12, we marked the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has added to the scientific understanding of our Genesis Torah narrative and verses in the Psalms such as, “Ma gadlu ma`asekha Adonai, How marvelous are your creations, Adonai.” (Ps. 92:6)

Rosh Hodesh Nisan is another step in the process of freedom. The first gift of freedom the Hebrews received was the opportunity to create a new calendar. The determination of time was now placed in their hands. Slaves have no control over their time; they are always at the mercy of their masters. Now, God says to the Israelites, “You are masters of your own time. You have the blessing and responsibility of determining how time will be measured, marked and used by your community.”

Rosh Hodesh, then, comes with an empowering message to those of us who are sensitive to the workings of our Hebrew calendar: take control of your time! Never see yourself as a slave to the clock. Every day, every minute is given into your power. Every day can be a blessing. You cannot stop the ceaseless flow of the hours, but you can shape the flow of time, creating special moments, holy days and celebrations that sanctify and beautify your life. You can shape reality itself. “Hahodesh hazeh lachem – This month is for you.” It is up to each and every one of us. No one else is going to add meaning to our daily lives: only we can.

The second message of Rosh Hodesh also speaks especially to the Jewish people. Why were the Jews given a lunar calendar, rather than a solar calendar like the peoples around them? Because, the midrash says, the sun is a static body in the heavens, its radiance bright, constant and unchanging. But the moon, the smaller heavenly body, waxes and wanes in phases: it moves from total darkness to the gradual increase of light, achieves full brilliance and gradually diminishes once again into the dark.

Israel, too, has its phases; it waxes and wanes through all the centuries of its history. The Jewish people have known times of darkness and despair, times when we nearly disappeared. But always, we re-emerge into the light, returning once again to strength and vitality; sometimes in a new land, sometimes with new leaders. By identifying the moon as a symbol of the Jews, our Sages conveyed their sense of hope in the power and resilience of our people.

The Kabbalists also understand this symbolism in a more personal sense. Every individual, they taught, waxes and wanes, passing through phases and cycles of the body, mind and spirit. The moon draws the ocean into high and low tides, and so do we experience periodic expansions and withdrawals of our vital energies.

Each of us has times when we feel small or insignificant, times when were tired, bored, lacking in confidence, enthusiasm or faith. There are times when we are not sure what to do, which way to go, what decision to make. We all know dark periods when we are consumed by worries and doubts. The moon is our personal symbol, our personal promise that we can come out of darkness and sorrow, re-emerging with courage and renewed energy.

Now is the time to look over the Haggadah and plan for your Seder. Now is a good time to find readings on the themes of Eco-Judaism, our economic situation, our yearnings for Peace in the Middle East, or our hopes for our families.

May this new moon ha-hodesh, give us a spirit of renewal.

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Rabbi Robert Waxman is a graduate of AJR class of 1979 and serves as rabbi of Bnai Israel Synagogue in Wilmington, North Carolina.