Life Lessons from the Torah Portion
” Bo ” Exodus 10:1–13:16
When did “time” begin? Is the answer to that question simply a function of the observer or is it an independent axiom of existence. In the words of Kant “Since the beginning is an existence which is preceded by a time in which the thing is not, there must have been a preceding time in which the world was not, i.e. an empty time” ( Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ).
Sir Isaac Newton writes about G-d and the beginning of time the following; “He is not eternity and infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever, and is everywhere present; and, by existing always and everywhere,”( Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’.
The Jewish response to the question we have raised, is that it is an irrelevant question.
Not that” time “ is irrelevant but comprehending its nature and duration is. That is why the Torah begins with the Hebrew letter BET in the word Breishit( In the Beginning) .The Mid¬rash asks “Why was the world created with a bet? Just as the bet is closed at the sides, but open in front, so we are prompted not to be too concerned with what is above, what is below, what is before and what is behind. Our focus must be pointed forward from the day of the creation of the world and onward.( Midrash Breishit Rabbah).
In fact that day of creation that we posit as being the beginning of Time is not that first day of creation but rather the sixth day at the creation of Adam and Eve. It is on that day that the true purpose of Creation would begin to unfold. That then is the day we celebrate as Rosh Hashanah , the Jewish New Year.
Yet in the Torah Portion of Bo we read the following first commandment given to the enslaved children of Israel;
“And HaShem spoke unto Moshe and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: ‘This (HaZeh) month will be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 15:1-2)
If the world was created in the month of Tishrei ( Rosh Hashanah,) , why then is the month of Nissan called “the first month of the year “?
To answer that on the simplest level we see that the Torah states that Nissan “..shall be the first month of the year to you.” (ibid) .That is to say Tishrei marks the creation of the world, while Nissan marks the creation of the people of Israel.
Yet there is yet another level of understanding to be gleaned from the words “And HaShem spoke unto Moshe and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: ‘This (HaZeh) month will be to you the beginning of months( ibid)
The word HaZeh (‘this’), is very significant in our verse. The Midrash metaphorically understands God’s statement of ‘this’ as a Divine finger pointing towards the newly emerged sliver of a moon and saying to Moshe:
‘When you see the moon at this state you must sanctify it as the head of all months.’
What was it so important that this commandment be declared at this delicate time before the exodus from Egypt and why is Moshe’s and subsequently other leadership’s sanctification so critical? (you must sanctify it as the head of all months.)
The timing of this commandment was important as the children of Israel in Egypt were slaves. They had no control over time. That is in fact true of all of us, in our own lives. We are all slaves to time. We all feel as if we are victims of the rushing river of time. At times we feel as if we are being dragged forward into the unknown and at times we emerge feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
This command given to this people at this juncture was in fact the first stage of liberation. They were given back control of time. They were given the power to designate each new month.
Furthermore they and we, their descendants, are being taught the power of renewal. We must learn to live in a world governed by the passage of the sun and its ever present constancy, as the verse declares;
There is nothing new under the sun. (Kohelet 1:9)
Focusing away from the sun and concentrating on the moon teaches us again and again the great power and potential of renewal .It reminds us again of the ever-present ability to change and grow. Just as the moon grows brighter and then fades, Jewish history mirrors this cycle. Though they began as slaves, they developed into the powerful kingdoms of King David and his son. Though they entered exile their spiritual strength will always return and revive them. This is a cycle that will continue until the final days.
Finally there is yet another powerful layer that is revealed in this commandment. Hashem is telling these people that He has given them the power to sanctify the month. It is not only about declaring the month’s beginning but it is about filling it with holiness and purpose.
In fact it is their act of determining the beginning of the month that fills it with holiness. G-d’s appointed meeting times (the Moadim) are determined by the human action of the determination and sanctification. Mortal man is being given the opportunity to bring together the Infinite and the Finite. He is being an opportunity to work in partnership with Hashem to bring holiness into the world. That task is so filled with meaning that a moment’s contemplation of its power will become a soul changing moment.
There is no greater gift and no greater responsibility.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved