OpinionTorah Portion

Waxing and waning

Time, too, needs to be sanctified.

An image of the crescent moon in the night sky. Source: Efasein/Shutterstock
An image of the crescent moon in the night sky. Source: Efasein/Shutterstock
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

Philosophers have long debated what was the first thing God created. We all know that “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Then there is the Divine pronouncement, “Let there be light.” Some have argued that Time itself was the very first creation, as before the world was created there was no such thing as Time, no differentiation between past, present and future. An infinite God is beyond Time. Only when the world came into being did finite Time begin to exist as an entity.

This week, in synagogues around the world, in addition to Parashat Shemini, we will read a special portion from a second Torah. This additional reading, called Parashat HaChodesh, is from Exodus 12. It recounts a Divine commandment given to Moses and Aaron back in Egypt. God told them that the Hebrew month of Nisan would be considered the first of the calendar months. They were further instructed to take the Pascal Lamb on the 10th of Nisan, examine it to ensure it was blemish-free, and slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan. That night, each family would enjoy a dinner of roasted lamb together. It was the very first Passover seder.

This was the first time God discussed any kind of calendar with Moses; the first time we were taught that our calendar would be primarily lunar as opposed to the solar Gregorian calendar used by Christians.

So, the very first commandment given to the Jewish people—a full seven weeks before the great Revelation at Sinai—was the Jewish calendar. 

And what is a calendar if not Time?

All the commandments of the Torah are designed to sanctify elements of the material world in one way or another. Whether it is taking a cowhide and transforming it into parchment for a Torah scroll, tefillin or a mezuzah; a tallit made from sheep’s wool; or Shabbat candles made from wax, we are taking a part of the physical world and dedicating it to God—transforming it from an earthly object into a heavenly, spiritual entity.

So what was the very first mitzvah given to us? The calendar. Because before we can sanctify specific physical objects, we must first learn to sanctify Time itself. 

When we pronounce next Tuesday as Rosh Chodesh Nisan, we are sanctifying and elevating Time. We are demarcating this day as special. It will have its own unique prayers and observances. When we work for six days and rest on the seventh, we are sanctifying and consecrating the seventh day as Shabbat, a day apart. When we observe the week-long Passover beginning on the 15th of Nisan, we will be designating that time as different and sacred. And so it is with all our sacred Holy Days and Festivals.

When a Jewish woman immerses in the purifying waters of the mikvah, having counted seven days leading up to that experience, she has sanctified a week of time. And when we added a 13th month to this year’s calendar with Adar Bet, we sanctified a whole month.

Then there is the underlying imperative to treat Time with respect and reverence by using it productively and not wasting it. That, too, is a consecration of Time. When we better appreciate Time itself and appreciate what a precious commodity it truly is, we are sanctifying and hallowing Time as well.

The Lunar calendar differs from the Gregorian as the moon differs from the sun. The sun is essentially a constant. It doesn’t appear to change in size and shape. But from our earthly perspective, the moon is forever changing. First, it is a tiny sliver in the sky, and just two weeks later it is a full, bright, glorious luminary.

By giving us a lunar calendar, God was indicating that the Jewish people are like the moon. We also wax and wane. We have moments of greatness and moments of mediocrity or worse. Throughout our long and tortuous history, we’ve continuously experienced dramatic fluctuations. “Ups and downs” is an understatement. In the current war in Gaza and beyond, we’ve experienced the most horrific atrocities imaginable, but we’ve also been blessed with moments of holy inspiration, unprecedented unity and miraculous deliverances.

May we continue to sanctify Time and very soon see the glorious luminaries above shining down upon us and illuminating all our lives and our nation with outstanding success and victory.

We may be down, but we’ll never be out. Ever since the Exodus, the coming month of Nisan has been a month of miracles. Watch this space!

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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