Weekly Sermon

Weekly Sermon

BO 5781

This week’s Torah portion contains the 1st mitzvah given to the Jewish people, and it’s given right in the middle of the Exodus story (Ex. 12:2) just before the Jews left Egypt: Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chawdashim (This new moon shall be for YOU the 1st of months). Previously, the 1st month for the world was Tishre, because the birthday of the world was in Tishre—as we commemorate on Rosh Hashanah. But with the Exodus from Egypt, we became Gd’s people and so for us, Nisan—the month of the Exodus—became our 1st month. This then essentially was a command to sanctify each new moon—each new month—and thereby establish the Jewish lunar calendar beginning in Nisan. 

But why a lunar calendar—especially when the rest of the world, even then in Egypt, used a solar calendar? The lunar calendar is cumbersome with many confusing modifications added to make sure that it coincides with the solar calendar and that Passover is always celebrated in the spring as the Torah requires. The lunar year is 354½ days, while the solar year is 365¼ days. So, 7 times every 19 years we need to add a whole month to catch up. Why bother with a lunar calendar? 

Also, why was this mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon told to the Jewish people just before they left Egypt?

It’s because the moon is a perfect symbol for the Jewish people. Every month the moon gets larger and larger for about 15 days…and when it becomes full, it gets smaller and smaller till it seems to disappear after about 15 days. Suddenly, it reappears, and the cycle repeats itself. Isn’t this very much like the Jewish people?

Rabeynu Bachya notes that there were 15 generations from Abraham, the 1st Jew, to the zenith of Jewish history with the reign of King Solomon. Jewish history then begins a decline until 15 generations later in the reign of King Tzidkiyahu—whose eyes were taken out symbolizing darkness—and the Temple was destroyed. The cycle of Jewish history as it appears in the Bible is consistently 15 generations up and 15 generations down.

To understand the symbolism of the Jew being connected with the moon rather than the sun is to recognize that the Jew has been able to survive the nights of history. The sun’s light never diminishes, but that’s not how life is. In real life we have periods of light and darkness—and Jewish history testifies to that. Also, the moon shines when you need it the most—perhaps reflecting that the task of the Jew, as Isaiah (49:46) taught, is to be an Or lagoyim, “a light unto the nations,” to radiate light when it’s most dark. Jews are to be the light in the darkness of this world.

The waxing and waning moon are to symbolize for us the ups and downs of history and of our lives. The waning moon represents difficult times; periods that get darker and darker, like the fading moon. But just as the moon disappears, when all seems bleak and lost, we then experience rebirth, newfound life—a new moon is been born. The moon—even with its diminished light—is there to shine a light for us to make it through any challenge—no matter how difficult.

All birth in this world comes only after a moment of darkness. But when things seem bleak we get demoralized, and that in turn makes things far worse. If only we were able to see the birthing to come, we would be able to endure the hardest times. The problem is that we cannot see from beneath the rubble the light ahead.

How does a mother have strength to fight for her child even when all doctors have given up hope? What power did the Jews have when they were herded into the gas chambers to sing Ani maamin b’emuna shleyma (I believe with perfect faith)? How is it possible that against all odds, in situations that were absolutely hopeless, the Jewish nation has not just survived but thrived? Who would have even thought in 1944, with the Holocaust at its most devastating pace, that just 4 years later the State of Israel would be born and become a continuing source of light to the world that continues today.

The answer is in Gd’s command to sanctify the moon: Hachodesh hazeh LACHEM (This month, this moon shall be for YOU). You, look at it. You, look at its secret of rebirth. Here is the invisible intersection where dark meets light, pain meets joy and exile meets redemption.

As we read the story of Shemot (the Book of Exodus)—the book in which the Jews go from darkness to light—the story of loss and renewal, the story of suffering and growth, the story of death and rebirth—we’re still inspired by events over 3,000 years old.

My friends, when the next new moon arrives, go outside and look up into the sky and be inspired that no matter how dark it may get, a new moon is just around the corner. The Covid virus now seems worse than ever with a record number of cases and new, more contagious strains. But as dark as our world is now, just ahead is the new moon—a brighter and more glorious future. Amen!

    

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