I would like to dedicate this devar Torah in memory of my mother, Simcha bat Victoria Varon
I would like to thank Chabad.org, Torah.org, and 70 Faces .com
Today is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, not only the first day of the month, but also the first month of the year. As Jews we take the concept of time very seriously, our Torah begins with the words “In the beginning…” and while studying the Talmud one traditionally starts with the question: “From what time may one recite the evening Shema?” So it perhaps should not be surprising that the first commandment given to the Nation of Israel was to create a calendar based on the cycles of the moon, and to sanctify the moon “And G-d said to Moses… in the land of Egypt… this month is for you, the head of the months. First it is for you among the months of the year (Shemot 12:1-2)
The process of sanctifying the new moon was a complicated one. Only a Beit Din composed of judges who are linked, student to teacher, directly to Moshe are permitted to sanctify the month. Those who have witnessed the new moon and come to the court to share their knowledge have to endure a thorough examination by the judges. The laws are complex and detailed, so why is this so important?
Sefer HaChinuch states that if it were not for the fact that we are assured that the months of the year occur at their proper time, the calendar would be in a constant state of flux. This would create many problems. For example we know that Passover is supposed to be in the spring and Sukkot is to be in the fall. If the months were not carefully calculated and an extra month not added when needed, the holidays would not occur in their proper time, and therein lies the importance of this commandment.
The Rambam echoes this reasoning. He explains that the sanctification of the new month is the foundation for all the holy days of the year. As I mentioned, if not for the proper reckoning of the months, all of the holidays would fall out in the improper seasons. We would then not have the holidays, their holiness, and their accompanying commandments, which would be a huge loss for Beni Israel. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the calendar, and in some respects, our “religion”, we were given this commandment, the sanctifying of the new month, before any other commandment.
The Medrash, when speaking about this commandment, tells us that all who bless the new month in its proper time, it is as if they have seen the Holy Countenance of G-d. The Medrash learns this from a connection between the distinctive use of the word “this” in two places: the commandment about the sanctification of the new moon “THIS is to you…” and the praise of Hashem by the nation of Israel after the splitting of the Red Sea- “THIS is my G-d and I will glorify Him”. The Ksav Sofer explains why the blessing of the new moon is analogous to “seeing” Hashem. He explains that there are those who deny the divine providence of G-d by saying that the only time that G-d had input into the world was when he created the world, and that since then, it has been running on “cruise control” and continues to exist only according to “nature” without any divine direction. We believe that Hashem’s providence is with us daily and see Hashem’s hand in all we do and see around us. And what event in history is the most striking proof, and made it clear to all who witnessed it that indeed Hashem controls all aspects of the physical world, but the splitting of the Red Sea. By blessing the new month, we are acknowledging that it is because He is the one who causes the renewal of the new month and that all is under Hashem’s control. The meaning of the Medrash is now clearer. All who bless the new moon, and therefore indicate that they believe in the providence of G-d, and stand before Him always as if they were pointing and saying “This is my G-d!,” because of the closeness of the relationship that exist between G-d and man, it is as if they have seen the holy countenance of G-d.