Tuesday, March 21, 2023

 Parashiyot VaYakhel-Pekudei, Shabbat HaChodesh

“Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim … ” This week’s special maftir reading taken from the 12th perek in Shemot, opens with Hashem’s declaration that “this month,” i.e., the month of Nisan, will be the first of the months. It is, therefore, quite understandable that this statement is read on the Shabbat of—or before—Rosh Chodesh Nisan. This day is considered so important that the Gemara (Shabbat 87b) tells us that it was honored with 10 crowns, enumerating 10 historical events that occurred on this one day. Additionally, the very observance of Rosh Chodesh was considered quite important in ancient Israel, as seen not only by the story of David and Shaul (Shmuel A: 20), but by the fact that it was one of the three observances that the Syrian-Greeks attempted to nullify.

Given these facts, we well understand why our tannaim chose these perakim (Sefer Yechezkel 45 and 46) to be read as the haftarah on this Shabbat. The reading details the rituals that would be followed in the future Beit Hamikdash—especially as they pertain to the functioning of the kohanim—but primarily, Yechezkel describes the service to be followed on Rosh Chodesh, and, specifically, on the first of Nisan. These laws are not found in the Torah, but would be observed in the future—a clear reminder to the future generations of the importance of the day.

But we would be remiss, were we to ignore the fact that this week’s special maftir also commands our reliance on the lunar calendar and, for that reason, Yechezkel includes in our haftarah the rituals that were to be observed on every Rosh Chodesh. The yeshivot in which I taught insisted that the students wore white shirts on Rosh Chodesh—not because it was a halacha, but because it was a reminder.

Today, Rosh Chodesh often passes with hardly any notice or impact on our lives—beyond the additional tefillot that we recite. And, although we declare the approach of Rosh Chodesh on the previous Shabbat, we find no ritual, no special meal and nothing significant to mark the day as being a “mini” Yom Tov. And this is unfortunate.

Chazal saw Rosh Chodesh and the lunar calendar as a symbol of Israel herself. The reappearance and growth of a new moon after its decline and disappearance was considered the story of Am Yisrael, whose strength and vibrancy might decline, but whose renewal and growth is inevitable. How beautiful is the idea—expressed by Rav Yigal Ariel—that the first mention of a Rosh Chodesh holiday family sacrifice is found regarding David (Shmuel A: 20; 29) who, as one who brought the glorious days Israelite kingship and rehabilitated the nation’s strength, clearly reflected the Rosh Chodesh renewal of the moon (note the addition of “David Melech Yisrael’” in the Kiddush Levana tefilla).

Rosh Chodesh is not a day that should be ignored. It is a day that should be remembered, understood and appreciated. It must be seen as a time of potential renewal—for ourselves and for our people. And Rosh Chodesh Nisan must be recognized as that special day that was crowned with yet another crown—the mitzvah of following the moon! “Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim … ”

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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