Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Hachodesh 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
We Control our Time
This will be a different and special Shabbat because we will read from three different Torah Scrolls. We will read the regular weekly Torah section, or parasha, from the first scroll. Then, because this Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new Hebrew month, we will read the corresponding paragraph from the second scroll. Finally, this Shabbat marks the beginning of the month of Nissan, and thus we call it Shabbat Hachodesh. During this Shabbat we have a special Torah reading (which this year we will read from a third Torah scroll), that describes the first night of Passover.
Shabbat Hachodesh occurs either on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh itself as it does this year. The maftir reading is Exodus 12:1-20, which contains the orders to eat the Passover sacrifice, bitter herbs (maror) and unleavened bread (matza). It also includes God’s order to put blood on the doorposts and many more Passover laws.
This same reading includes the first public commandment given in the Torah, which is that we must sanctify the new moon. As it is written, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” This is a remarkable commandment because it gives the Jewish people the power to control their own calendar. You may say that God gave the Jewish people control over their time.
Humankind has accomplished incredible achievements. Today most of us do things with our cell-phones that only a couple of generations ago seemed to be part of a science fiction novel. And it is not hard to believe that revolutionary technological changes are going to happen soon. There are so many things that man can control today; it seems like man can control everything.
Still, if there is something man cannot control yet, and probably will never be able to, that is time. Times passes for all of us; no exceptions at all. That is why it is so remarkable that the first public mitzvah given to the Jewish people is the ability to develop and control their calendar, the ability to control its time! What is the meaning of this?
Perhaps we should refine our understanding of the significance of this mitzvah, and, thus, learn an important moral. In the Jewish tradition, men and women are in charge of their time. Not in the sense that they can go back to the past or miraculously travel to the future. When I say that we are in control of our time, I mean that we are given the most precious gift we can receive, that is our lives. In our hands lays the possibility of doing our best to live meaningful lives, depending on our actions and our values. The limited time we are given in this world is under our control. We can take advantage of it, and we can waste it too. Under the circumstances we are living, we only control our time, until God decides our time in this life is over.
Shabbat Hachodesh is a good opportunity to meditate on how we invest our time, the most valuable treasure we possess. It is also an appropriate time of the year, since after this Shabbat we start to seriously prepare for Passover, when we become free women and men. Only a free person can decide what to do with his time. It’s time to think about time!