Parshat Tazria

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Parshat HaChodesh

(G-d) showed Moshe a new moon and said to him, “When the moon renews itself, that will be a new month for you.” – Rashi Ex 12:2

Did you hear about the trial kosher restaurant NASA set up on the moon? It closed after a month – the food was excellent, but there was no atmosphere.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat HaChodesh, named after the special maftir read from a second Torah scroll. The maftir, from Parshat Bo, deals with commands to be given to the People of Israel before they left Egypt for freedom, safety and the Divine Revelation at Sinai. It contains the very first mitzvah given to the People of Israel – that of Kiddush HaChodesh – the arranging of the calendar, and the sanctifying of the months. What this meant practically was that the date of each new month, Rosh Chodesh, was to be determined by local witnesses who would see the moon and notify the Beth Din. What this meant spiritually was that G-d was handing over control of the Hebrew calendar to the Jewish People.

A couple of questions stand out when we read this portion:

1) Why is the calendar so very important, that it is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people?  Surely one of the Ten Commandments would have been more appropriate at this pivotal moment?

2) Why does G-d have to show Moses a vision of the new moon?  Surely Moses knew what the waxing and waning of the moon looked like – he was a shepherd who lived under the stars!

To understand this we can look back to a Parsha we read a few weeks ago – Ki Tissa – regarding the census Moses took of the Jewish people. He did this by collecting exactly one silver half-shekel from each individual, rich or poor. Rashi, in his comment on this verse, quotes an interesting midrash that G-d actually showed Moses a vision of a half-shekel coin made of fire and said, “This is what they should give.

Once again the question which springs immediately to mind is, “Did Moses not know what a half-shekel looked like?” Why did he have to be shown a fiery example of this coin to understand the precept?

In both instances, the vision of the new moon and the vision of the fiery coin there is a deeper message for us to learn from.

The Sages tell us that at the formation of the Jewish nation they were given a special mission – to turn the physical world into a spiritual arena – to bring Heaven down to Earth. We do that in two ways:

1) By taking mundane, physical objects and using them for spiritual purposes – leather for Tefillin, wax for Shabbat candles, money for charity etc. This is illustrated by the vision of a coin of fire shown to Moses. Money is commonly portrayed as the root of all evil, yet money can be the root of incredible good too. The flaming coin was a powerful lesson to Moses, and in turn to the newly Chosen People – your mission is to turn the physical world you inhabit into an ethereal, spiritual one.

2) Our task is not only to use physical objects for Divine purposes, but even Time itself. We must sanctify the very moments in which we exist. Time is so precious that when we find our time is running out we plead and pray for just a little bit more. Yet when we feel we have “plenty of time” or even “time to kill” then the value of time is less apparent. When G-d shows Moses the vision of the moon, and gives him the details of the lunar calendar he is revealing an important mandate to His people: Time is truly precious, and like grains of salt in a timer, will run out for everyone at their allotted time: but our task while we are in possession of those moments is to make them holy – to sanctify the days of our life.

Let us take to heart these two important messages and try to improve a little how we spend our money and especially how we spend our time. In the words of author Denis Waitely, “Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day.  Rich people can’t buy more hours, scientists can’t invent new minutes and you can’t save time to spend it on another day.  Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving.  No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


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