Thursday, March 30, 2023

Passaic/Clifton has an incredible view of the New York City skyline. With the completion of the new American Dream mall in New Jersey—five miles away—there is a new addition to the view from here: the 300-foot ferris wheel. Personally, I’m more of a roller coaster fan, but I still enjoy the relaxing nature of the ferris wheel as a nice break from the fast roller coasters, not to mention the spectacular view on top of the wheel.

This week, we will read Parshas HaChodesh, heralding the month of Nisan and the upcoming holiday of Pesach. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon in Mitzrayim, “Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim—this month shall be for you the beginning of the months.” Nisan is when we begin counting the months. Indeed, the Hebrew calendar year has two marking points: the start of the year is Tishrei, but the start of the counting of the months is exactly six months later—with the month of Nisan. Just like the top and bottom cars of the ferris wheel.

With the mitzvah of “Hachodesh hazeh,” counting the months, Hashem gave klal Yisrael the ability to renew themselves. Notice that the word “chodesh” (month) has the same Hebrew letters as the word “chadash” (new)! The moon itself has two cycles: first it waxes, increasing in size; then it wanes in the second half of its cycle, decreasing in size. The Arugas Habosem says that this represents our Jewish life cycle, which has ups and downs. Similar to the ferris wheel—the ride heads down in order to once again go back up.

The gematria of the word “hachodesh” (spelled without a vav) equals 317, the same as the Hebrew word “yeiush” (giving up hope). This teaches us that when people think they are at the bottom, they should realize that—precisely, at that moment—is the time for renewal. Many times we get stuck in a sad state; but we must know that if we feel we are down, then we’ve reached the point to get ourselves to climb back up.

There is another dimension—learned from the writings of Rav Avraham Schorr—that derives from the mitzvah of “Hachodesh hazeh lachem.” Hashem used the word “zeh” (this). What was Hashem referring to with “this?” Rashi explains that Moshe had a hard time visualizing the exact beginning of the new moon for purposes of Kiddush Hachodesh (sanctification of the new month), so Hashem showed him the image of the new moon. “Zeh” is that image. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says that “zeh” is referring to the fact that when Bnei Yisrael will leave Mitzrayim on the 15th of Nissan, they will experience the hand of Hashem saving them so clearly, that at the splitting of the sea, they will be able to point to Hashem and say, “Zeh keili v’anveihu—This is my Hashem, Who took me out of Mitzrayim, and I will glorify Him.”

The gematria of the word “zeh” is 12—the number of months in the Hebrew calendar—and Nissan is the first of the 12 months. The word “zeh” appears multiple times in the Haggadah: “Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh.” Also, “ba’avur zeh” (because of this), is said in response to two of the four sons. We also use the pasuk stating “ba’avur zeh,” when we point to the matzah and maror. “Zeh” signifies that we are identifying Hashem’s involvement in both our redemption from Mitzrayim and in our everyday lives.

The Radziner Rebbe says that the avodah (religious service) for Nissan is similar to the avodah for the month of Tishrei/Yomim Noraim (days of awe). On Rosh Hashanah, we say that three things can overturn a harsh decree: teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah. In the Rosh Hashanah machzor, one might notice that on top of the words “teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah” are the three words “tzom”—fasting, “kol”—voice (davening), and “mamon”—money (giving Tzedakah). The gematria of each of these three words is 136, and the total of all three equals 408. This is the same gematria as the word “zos” (feminine of “zeh”), signifying that in Nissan, there are also elements of these three areas: tzom—the fast of the firstborn on erev Pesach, kol—reciting the Haggadah on Seder night and mamon—the mitzvah of Kimcha D’pischa (giving money to needy families for matzah, wine and other Pesach food). The Sfas Emes says that the focus of Tishrei is yirah—fear and awe of Hashem, as servants have for their master. But the avodah of Nissan is focused on ahavah—love, as a child has for a parent.

In Nissan, we can achieve closeness to Hashem, even more than during the Yomim Noraim. We can be aware enough to point to Hashem and say “zeh”— “This is my Hashem and I will glorify Him.”

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston and Springfield. This year, he joined Heichal Hatorah in Teaneck as a Gemara iyun rebbe. His email is [email protected]

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