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Parshat Bo

By: Mrs Malka Hubscher

In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Bo, we encounter the famous pasuk (Shemot 12:1), “Ha-chodesh ha-zeh lakhem….” “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” This is the first mitzvah in the Torah, given to Moshe and Aharon: To sanctify the new month and to establish Rosh Chodesh.

Many mefarshim grapple with the question, why specifically is Rosh Chodesh given as the first mitzvah in the Torah?  Would it not have been more appropriate to begin with the mitzvah to believe in G-d, similar to the style of the Ten Commandments, which begin with “Anochi Hashem Elokecha”?

Also, there seems to be a textual problem with the pasuk. Why the added work “lachem,” “for you”? The Ramban explains, based on the Gemara in Rosh Ha-Shanah, that “lachem” refers specifically to Moshe and Aharon; from this added word, we deduce the halachah that Rosh Chodesh can be sanctified only by a Beit Din of experts like Moshe and Aharon.

Alternatively, one could also understand that “lachem” is not referring only to Moshe and Aharon, but to all the Jewish people. The Ramban, as well as the Kli Yakar, explain that perhaps “lachem” refers exclusively to the Jewish People, to the exclusion of non-Jews. By establishing Nisan as the beginning of our biblical calendar year, we are separating ourselves from the other nations. We have a unique calendar, which beings from Nissan, thus ensuring that we always remember Yetziat Mitzrayyim. We count our months from the most momentous national experience, the exodus from Mitzrayyim. This not only serves as a constant reminder to us of the great miracles, but it establishes our unique and individual national identity as people with both a common history and a sacred mission.

Rav Ovadia Seforno offers a different explanation of “lachem.” He suggests that the word reflects a new reality for the Jewish people. Up until this point, Bnei Yisrael had been slaves with no mastery over their own time.  They were subservient to masters, who determined how they would spend their every minute. Now, as the redemption nears, Hashem commands the Jews to become masters of their own time. Now they are given the privilege and the challenge to determine how they spend their time. The very first mitzvah and the fundamental and daily challenge of every Jew is how to use our time well.

Now that we are masters of our own time, we ultimately become the controllers of our own destiny. One can use his time and sanctify it with holy endeavors, as the Beit Din sanctifies the new moon. Or, G-d forbid, we can misuse our time, and once again become slaves to the distractions around us and the elements of our life that deter us from kedushah. "There is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of the Torah." (Avot 6:2). This would also explain why this was chosen as the first mitzvah given to every Jew. To take control of our time and to use our freedom to make the proper choices, serves as a preliminary for sanctifying ourselves and then the world around us.









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