July 24, 2024
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July 24, 2024
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I saw a story where a student of the Vilna Gaon once came to ask him what he considers to be the “best mussar sefer” to learn. The Vilna Gaon responded by naming a few, but the student pressed on: “But which is the best?” The Vilna Gaon said, “I don’t wish to pick favorites,” and pointing to the clock that rested upon the wall he said, “but for me, that’s the ‘best mussar sefer.’”

If we really understood that there is a tick-tock to life, the value of time would perhaps be perceived differently. Besides just “not wasting time” and utilizing every moment within our capacity, the appreciation of time can cause a qualitative change, perhaps influencing our perspectives, and as a result our priorities would shift and our activities would change.

This week is Parshat Hachodesh, the final parsha of the four parshiyot that are completed by the beginning of Nisan. Hachodesh entails the first mitzvah ever given to Bnei Yisrael: declaring and sanctifying the new month.

Interestingly, with all the hustle bustle going on and the anticipation of leaving Mitzrayim, nevertheless, for some reason Hashem gives us this first mitzvah ever, right before we’re about to bounce! What’s the significance of Hashem giving us this mitzvah right before the exodus?

R’ Dovid Haksher (Shiras Dovid, p. 263) explains that the essence of the mitzvah of Chodesh is that Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the control and power to establish and sanctify the new month. Now, since the time for redemption is in the month of Nisan [as the Gemara Rosh Hashanah 11a indicates], therefore Bnei Yisrael first needed to establish the month of Nisan. Hence, through Hashem giving them this control over the establishment of the months they could now declare the upcoming month as the month of Nisan, and thus achieve redemption.

Based on this, perhaps we can suggest another element behind this mitzvah of Chodesh, and why we needed it right before the exodus. If the core of this mitzvah is Hashem giving us control of the new month, perhaps this also carries a deeper idea of Hashem charging us to take control of time. Without the structure of months, perhaps time wouldn’t have a practical framework. But now, time is something we can see as moving and passing and can now carry more meaning.

Up until now, Bnei Yisrael were victims of time. Living as slaves with no freedom or life of their own, we had no time of our own. The concept of “free time” was probably so impossible, they may not have even dreamed of such a thing. But now we are on the brink of freedom, about to enter a totally new life. Hashem is taking us out, to eventually bring us to Har Sinai, where we accept the Torah and enter an official relationship with Hashem. Life is about to take on a whole new meaning and purpose where our new reality is one of spiritual achievement. But before we head out toward those lofty ideals, we are perhaps instructed to inculcate this new (for us at least) concept of time—that now we have our own time. But how will we use it? Hashem giving us this mitzvah right before we head out is perhaps charging us to value time, to take responsibility for how we use our time, to use every moment in our ability for the right things. From no time to all the time, Hashem perhaps wants us to not fall prey to being subjects of time, but rather to be cognizant of its value and make the most of it.

Shortly after we leave Mitzrayim, Amalek attacks. I once read an intriguing idea, that one fundamental concept that Amalek represents is attempting to stifle one’s motivation to accomplish in the present. “You will improve later,” “tomorrow,” “next year,” “when you get older,” “when you settle down,” “when you retire,” etc. Indeed, the pasuk states, ראשית גוים עמלק—“Reishit goyim Amalek”—“The first of nations is Amalek,” which Rashi explains this to mean that they were the first to wage war with Bnei Yisrael. If you take the initials of those three words it spells רגע—“rega,” which means moment, symbolizing the present. Amalek’s tactic is to conquer—not the present, but our present, our inspiration to take advantage of our time in the now. The Jews are told to go battle them: צא הלחם בעמלק מחר—“tzei hilachem ba’Amalek machar—“go and do battle with Amalek tomorrow” (machar means tomorrow). Yet, perhaps it can be understood as “go and do battle with Amalek, on the concept of machar.” Oppose their persuasion and convincing chatter that says that you’ll do it tomorrow, that you will improve your life at a later time.

Perhaps we can suggest that it therefore makes sense that right after we are charged with the value of time, shortly after comes Amalek to counter that lofty ambition.

The first Rashi in Chumash indirectly asks a compelling question: Why doesn’t the Torah start with the very first mitzvah of Chodesh? We can ask, what’s the question? Isn’t it basic to first begin with Hashem’s creation of the world, which entails the most fundamental underpinnings of belief in Hashem!? Yet, perhaps we can offer an explanation to Rashi’s question: One can be filled with the knowledge of Hashem creating and running the show. But if at the end of the day a person lacks the value of time and lives in a state of “machar” instead of utilizing every moment for good, then all of one’s knowledge is academic and none of it is practical, as it may not necessarily translate into any good deeds. But if one understands the value of time, which is perhaps one element of the mitzvah of Chodesh, so now let’s learn! Let’s gather knowledge so we can put things into practice as much as our time allows. Thus, Rashi asks well: Let’s maybe begin with this concept before knowing about Creation!

The clock upon the wall doesn’t just tell time, but it also tells us to cherish our time. Rather than letting time pass us by or pushing things off till “tomorrow,” instead take advantage of every moment within our capacity and use it for good. As the Alter of Novardok would say, “It is better to trade all of your tomorrows for one today rather than all of your todays for one tomorrow.”


Binyamin can be reached at [email protected].

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