By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
As we survey the world around us and the depths to which many have fallen, it becomes difficult to remember that we were created to attain great heights as a nation and as individuals. Our task is to constantly self-improve, always working on the goal of becoming better people.
Rashi (Bereishis 1:1) famously quotes his father, Rav Yitzchok, who said that the Torah should have begun with the mitzvah of hachodesh hazeh lochem. He explains that the reason it begins with Bereishis is so that if nations of the world will allege that the Jews stole Eretz Yisroel, we will be able to respond that Hashem created the world and chose to give us the Promised Land, and thus it is ours.
Others answer that the Torah doesn’t begin with Parshas Hachodesh, because the stories of Sefer Bereishis are a necessary backdrop, a hakdomah of sorts, to the mitzvos.
This week, in Parshas Bo, we arrive at the parsha of hachodesh hazeh lochem with which the Torah ostensibly should have begun. By now, we have studied and internalized the messages of our avos and grown to appreciate the connection we have, through the promises made to them, with Hashem and with Eretz Yisroel. We know that Eretz Yisroel is ours and no one can take it from us. We have learned how to conduct ourselves from the stories of our forefathers and, by now, should be ready to progress to the mitzvos of the Torah.
However, we need to understand the significance of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh and why it is that we are welcomed with this mitzvah into life as avdei Hashem. What is it about this mitzvah that through it we are introduced to all the subsequent commandments of the Torah? Of all the mitzvos of the Torah, why was this the first one given to the Jewish people as a whole and the one with which Rashi believed the Torah should have begun?
An answer, perhaps, can be offered based on the fact that Kiddush Hachodesh is a process that is entrusted to the Jewish people as a whole. The proclamation of the new moon requires a verbal statement of a bais din.
The dayonim on the bais din who certify that a new moon has been seen and proclaim, “Mekudash,” either have to be members of the Sanhedrein or “semuchin,” certified and invested with the power of p’sak, links in a chain stretching back to Har Sinai (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:2).
Why does the Torah require those who proclaim the new moon to be semuchin? Why is it not sufficient for them to be proficient in the shapes of the moon so that they can ascertain when to accept testimony regarding the sighting of the new moon?
The reason is because in regards to this mitzvah, it is evident that the words and actions of humans can be invested with Divine properties and the levels we can attain.
The Nefesh Hachaim and other seforim discuss our ability to affect happenings in this world and in Shomyaim through the observance – and transgression – of mitzvos. That capability is first evident in the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh.
It is through having the power to proclaim Rosh Chodesh, or a leap year, that the Torah first reveals to us the capacity and potential of man to rise to the highest sphere, becoming a partner with the Creator Himself.
Rav Chaim Vital and others discuss that each Yom Tov brings special hashpa’os, an awakening of the Divine flow that occurred back when the miracle that the Yom Tov commemorates originally took place. Bais din, through its proclamation of which day will be Rosh Chodesh, and subsequently on which day Yom Tov will begin, actually determines when Hashem will cause that specific measure of Divine hashpa’ah to occur. The Ribbono Shel Olam abides by the bais din’s reasoning and determination to celebrate the Yom Tov on that day.
The many ramifications of bais din’s decision attest to its power. An example of the extent of bais din’s power is discussed in the Yerushalmi (Kesubos 1:2) regarding a physical phenomenon that can be manifest in a girl when she reaches the age of three. (See Shach, Yoreh Deah 189:13, for a further dissertation.) If she was born during the month of Nissan, for example, then, if the bais din decides to add a second month of Adar, postponing her birthday for a month, the physical realities that set in as she becomes three years of age are actually dependent on the bais din’s decision and are postponed for a month because she will not be celebrating her third birthday until Nissan.
Thus, since the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh is unique in that it shows Klal Yisroel the incredible heights they can reach, it is the first mitzvah given to us as a group and serves as an introduction to all the other mitzvos. It goes to the root of the greatness of Am Yisroel and demonstrates how much we can accomplish if we devote ourselves to observing the mitzvos and living lives dedicated to Hashem and His Torah.
This is the idea of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, which would have been a fitting opening to the entire Torah.
Imagine the message that Klal Yisroel received when, still in the throes of servitude, they were taught the particulars of a mitzvah with capacity beyond time and space. What a resounding announcement of their own freedom from the constrictions of Mitzrayim! It is as if they were gathered together by Moshe Rabbeinu and told, “You are redeemed from slavery and ready to soar!”
That awareness, with its accompanying demand for growth, was given to Klal Yisroel on the verge of freedom, as if to say, “This is what you can reach and accomplish through these mitzvos and by learning Torah.”
We can now understand the depth of a posuk later on in the perek. After the pesukim discuss the halachos of Pesach, the posuk (12:28) states, “Vayeilchu vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe v’Aharon – The Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and Aharon.”
The Mechilta, quoted by Rashi, notes that the lesson was given to the Bnei Yisroel on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, while the actual fulfillment of the laws of Korban Pesach didn’t take place until the middle of the month. Still, the posuk refers to the Jews as having done as Hashem commanded Moshe, in the past tense.
We can suggest that the posuk refers to them as having completed what was asked of them because this parsha of hachodesh hazeh lochem carries something integral to the observance of every mitzvah that would follow it, namely, an instructive lesson regarding what a mitzvah can do to man and the levels he can reach by following the Torah. “Vaya’asu” indicates that they understood the message that was being imparted to them, appreciating its relevance at every juncture of life. In this case, hearing, comprehending and internalizing the messages of hachodesh hazeh lochem and the chag hegeulah were themselves fulfillments of Hashem’s will.
The halachos of Kiddush Hachodesh and Pesach aren’t merely introductory and practical. They are a call from Heaven. “My children,” the Ribono Shel Olam is saying, “you are ge’ulim. There is no end to your freedom and to how great you can become!”
According to the Nefesh Hachaim (1:13), the word asiyah, which lies at the root of the word vaya’asu, means that what was being discussed achieved its tachlis, or purpose. Thus, when the Torah employs the verb asiyah to complete the discussion, stating, “Vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem,” that indicates that they realized the potential inherent in Hashem’s commandment. They understood the message behind the tzivuy, and thus, even though they had not yet performed the mitzvah, they had actualized the potential of how high they could reach.
We, the she’airis Yisroel, the remainder that clings to Kiddush Hachodesh and all the mitzvos that follow, know that we have a higher calling and a path to traverse.
Each generation has its own unique challenges that make it difficult to rise. Every generation gives birth to styles, language, technology and cultural immoralities with the potential to demoralize us and disconnect us from Torah.
That is why in this week’s parsha, the Torah mentions repeatedly from the very beginning (10:2) until the end (13:14) the concept of discussing the events and mitzvos surrounding Yetzias Mitzrayim with the younger generations. This is because the Torah speaks to all generations for all times. No matter what questions are confounding a given era, the answers are in the Torah. Its Divine wisdom shines like rays of welcome light into all epochs of history and corners of the globe, its lessons a living reality for each one.
We thank Hashem that the Torah can be transmitted from one generation to the next, that its messages can reach all children, and that it is relevant and meaningful to each Jewish child. It’s a celebration of the timeless and enduring relevance of the Torah.
This represents an obligation upon every parent to work to find the point where their child can be reached. No one is ever too far gone, too disinterested or too worn out to be written off and to be separated from Torah. There is something in the Torah for everyone. The Torah speaks to every child. Although it sometimes takes superhuman effort, no parent should ever give up on connecting with any of their children, as wayward as they appear to be.
Despite the distractions, temptations and turbulence around us, we must follow the guidance of the Torah and remain focused on our missions to bring about positive change in ourselves, our families and the cosmos. Let us not allow temporary setbacks to influence our moods and the way we interact with others. It is only with the emunah and bitachon that emanate from the parshiyos of Yetzias Mitzrayim that we can maintain the simcha necessary to be good and productive.
As we study Parshas Bo, let us endeavor to realize the potential that lies within us to reach the apex, positively impacting the world and preparing it for the coming of Moshiach.