Shabbat Hachodesh: A Time to Adjust Ourselves to a Different Reality
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hachodesh.” It is the last of four special Shabbatot before Pesach. It falls on the Shabbat before the month of Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh itself.
The special maftir reading is Exodus 12:1-20, which describes the night of the first Pesach before the children of Israel were liberated from Egypt. These verses describe the eating of the Pesach lamb sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Besides this, this paragraph describes the order to paint the doorposts of Israelite houses with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. In addition, we find in these verses various laws of Pesach.
This Shabbat we read that the Israelites were preparing themselves to leave Egypt, Mitzrayim (in Hebrew). The word “Mitzrayim” is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits”. When God freed the Israelites out of Mitzrayim, He extricated them from the place of constricted opportunities, tight control, and narrow-mindedness, where movement was severely limited.
In some way, we are living in Mitztrayim, in narrow straits. We are living an unprecedent crisis full of uncertainty and anxiety. We are living in narrow places, trying to protect ourselves and the people around us.
As the people of Israel did, we also look for refuge in our homes. We don’t paint our doorposts with blood; however, we feel a similar fear and the need to pray that our families, friends, and neighbors are healthy and safe.
As I mentioned before, this Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hachodesh.” It is interesting to note that the term “Chodesh” (month) shares the same root with the word “chaddash” (new), and also with “chiddush” (innovation).
During Nisan, the month of Pesach, we begin to reflect on freedom and the slavery of daily life. It is also when we are invited to think about how we can renew ourselves. One of the names for Pesach is Hag Haaviv, the festival of Spring. Also, the spring season is the beginning of a new period in our lives.
During these difficult days, looking for refuge in our homes, we need to readjust ourselves to a different realty. We need to learn how to live most of the time at home, observing social distancing, with new rules and so many restrictions. Shabbat Hachodesh invites us to reflect on how to renew and adjust ourselves to these difficult times.
Besides Shabbat Hachodesh, this Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim Hachodesh, when we announce the new month that is coming, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, which will take place on Wednesday night, March 25th and Thursday, March 26th. As we all need to pray in time of Miztrayim, in narrow strains, I want to conclude this message sharing with you a prayer about Rosh Chodesh, written by Marcia Falk, who is a Jewish poet, translator and liturgist.
Prayer for the New Month – Tefillat haChodesh
By Marcia Falk
May the month of Nisan be a month of blessings:
blessings of goodness,
blessings of joy,
peace and kindness,
friendship and love,
May truth and justice
guide our acts
temper our lives
that we may blossom
as we age
our sweetest selves.
May it be so.
Excerpted from The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath and the New Moon Festival; Harper, 1996; paperback edition, Beacon, 1999; Copyright 1996 Marcia Lee Falk.
Stay at home and be well!