11 Cheshvan 5782 / Sunday, October 17, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Bo: Constant Renewal    

Bo: Constant Renewal

This Divine clock given to Israel at redemption is internalized through the experience of womanhood. By means of our monthly cycles, women embody the renewal of the moon…


Parshat Bo

In this week’s parashah the Jewish people received the first mitzvah: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Mitzrayim, saying, ‘this month shall be to you the beginning ofMonths: it shall be the first month of the year to you’” (Shemot 12:1-2).
The Hebrew word for month “chodesh” also means new. With this first mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon, we became renewed as apeople. “There isnothing new under the sun” (Kohelet 1:9), teaches us that inthe realm of nature (under the sun) life repeats itself alongits predestined orbit. Yet, through the mitzvoth we can connect with the otherworldly realitybeyond the sun and the realm of nature. Sfat Emet explains that through performing mitzvoth, we connect with the source of life, which is continual renewal. It is our ability to renew ourselves through the mitzvoththat makes us Jewish. By receiving the first mitzvah, thenation of Israel is born. Our Sages teach “A convert whoconverted is like a baby newly born” (Yevamoth 62a). It is no wonder then, that the first mitzvah through which we became a Jewish nation is the embodiment of renewal (chodesh). Manycommentators ask, why the first of the Ten Commandmentsreads: “I am Hashem your G-d Who has taken you out of Egypt”(Shemot 20:2) instead of: “I am Hashem your G-d Who has created you?” WhenG-d created the world, He created it for the sake of Israel [who has the capability to bring all of humanity to perfection] (Batei Midrashot, part 1, Raba D’Bereishit 4). Since the nation of Israel was bornthrough the Exodus, it becomes indeed the purpose of creation. This is why the first of the Ten Commandments refers to the Exodusrather than Creation.
It is interesting that we received the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon which established that Israel is beyond nature, specifically “in the Land of Egypt,” was notorious for worshipping nature. This mitzvah interrupts the Torah'srecount of the plague of the firstborn that brought about our redemption. “…It shall be the first month of the year to you.”  The word “lachem” - “to you” teaches usthat the Jewish people must be personally involved in the process of establishing the beginning of everymonth. The date of Rosh Chodesh (first of the month) was determined by the beith din (Jewish court) based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who had actually seen the new moon. Although the wise people of the great beith din in Jerusalem knew the astronomical calculations of the calendar, in order that this mitzvah shall be “yours”, thedeclaration of the new month must beverified subjectively as well. Israel's personalinvolvement in the establishment of the calendar molded theawareness that we are not subordinate to the laws of nature. On the contrary, we are in charge of the times.  In order to make this recognition penetrate our awareness, we were handed the responsibility to determine the dates for ourholidays. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch points out that if the orbit of the moon automatically had determined the holidays, then thefestival of the New Moon would have been a great support forthe idol worship of nature. This was the worship of Egypt fromwhich Israel had urgently to be liberated.
According to Ramban we fulfill the mitzvah to constantly remember the great miracles of the Exodus by enumerating the Hebrew month Nissan, the month ofredemption as the first month. We lose this opportunity to remember the Exodus when we date our checks 1/23, using number one to referto the Gregorian month of January. It must be Divine Supervision that Parashat Bo, which describes the mitzvah to count the month of Nissan as the first month of the year, is always read in synagogue during January, the first month of the secular calendar. Could there be a stronger support for Ramban’s position never to count any other month than Nissan as the first?
The rebirth of the moon constantly calls us to become reborn from the nights ofroutine and corruption. It ensures eternal freshness, to theextent that Israel is forever immune to the spiritual and ethical corruption of Egypt. This Divine clock given to Israel at the verge of redemption is internalizedthrough the experience of womanhood. By means of our monthlycycles, women embody the renewal of the moon. “From my flesh I will see G-d” (Iyov 19:26). Through theexperience of the changes in our own body, we are able to feelhow nothing in life is static. We internalize the realizationthat life does not run its course automatically like a windupclock. When we are pregnant or nursing we do not need themonthly cycle to remind us that G-d continues to renew theworld. Nothing makes G-d's miraculous renewal of the worldclearer thanthe sensation of a new being growing within us.  Moreover, the rapid unfolding of our nursing infant teachesus to keep renewing ourselves as well. By the time of menopause, we will hopefully have integrated the lesson of the moon into the very fiber of our being
The mitzvah of recognizing the New Moon takes place in the dark after the sun goes down. Therefore, it wasgiven in Egypt, the place of spiritual darkness. The time of the New Moon is connected to the ability to bring light within the dark reality. We do notalways feel how the mitzvoth connectus with the world beyond the sun. One has to be wise in order to see that which is being born (Pirkei Avot 2:9). Unless we look very carefully, we will be totally enclosed in the darkness of physical reality. It takes faith tocontinue to look and anticipate the moment of the moon'srebirth. We need to lift our eyes to the heavens where the silver sliver of the moon is fleeting. Women are known for ourfaith and ability to see beyond our immediate reality. Ournurturing role allows us to visualize the fulfillment of the potential of our loved ones, and gives us faith that our giving eventually will bearfruit. “The woman was given more `bina’than the man” (Bereishit Raba 18:1). The word “bina” means bothintuition and building. A woman has the ability to build a tiny seed into a fully developed baby. Just as the newbornmoon waxes and becomes full, the baby develops and grows within the womb.
G-d began the inner molding of His people by establishing the renewal of the moon as a sign which would repeat itself throughout the year. In this way the experience of self renewal would be engraved within our hearts. Thus, the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon gives us the ability to guardthe feeling of excitement for the future time of redemption. The light of freedom that first rose in the horizon of the lives of the Jews during the Exodus and opened up new heavens before them continues to glow today. Its radiance is to be renewed multifold at the time of our final redemption.
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum is Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. This article is an excerpt from her book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, reviewed by The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, Voices Magazine, Good Reads, and Wordpress/JewishPress and more.

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