“The Original Jewish Renewal Movement”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On this coming Shabbat we will read two parashiot, Vayakhel and Pekudei, which conclude the book of Exodus. These parashiot describe the actual erecting and dedication of the Tabernacle. This Shabbat, we will also read Exodus 12:1-20 from a second Torah. This portion, known as Parashat Hachodesh, announces that the month of Nisan, the first month of the year, is soon to commence. In the year 5762, Rosh Chodesh Nisan occurs on Wednesday night, March 13th and Thursday, March 14th. Passover, of course, will be observed 15 days after Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

Exodus 12:1 reads: “Hachodesh ha’zeh lachem rosh chodashim, rishon hu la’chem l’chod’shay hashana.” This month shall be for you the head of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year. The rabbis point out that the word “lachem”--to you, is composed of the exact same letters as the word “melech”–king, which indicates that the month of Nisan should be honored more than any other month. By reading the special Torah portion and the special Haftorah (prophetic message) on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nisan, we publicize that this month is indeed honored and hallowed.

The Jewish calendar has propitious times. The month of Tishrei is a propitious time for teshuva, repentance. The month of Av is a propitious time for calamity. The month of Nisan is the propitious time for geulah, redemption. The Hebrew word Chodesh, month, is related to the Hebrew word chadash, which means new, obviously, related to the fact that the new moon appears at the beginning of the month. Chodesh also emphasizes renewal, renaissance, and rebuilding. The dark, cold winter has come to an end, and spring blossoms forth with hope and promise. The festival of Passover reflects that hope as well.

Eliyahu KiTov, writes in his landmark work, “The Book of Our Heritage”:

Our sages tell us that the word redemption applies only to one who emerges from darkness into light. One who has never experienced the suffering of bondage and oppression cannot appreciate redemption. The very essence of redemption is the freedom which comes from the oppression itself. Had the children of Israel never been enslaved, they would never have experienced true freedom. Once they were enslaved, the slavery itself gave rise to the redemption, and from the midst of the darkness the light burst forth. Thus said our sages: “The Israelites said to the Holy One, Blessed be He, ‘Oh Lord of the universe when will You deliver us?’ The Holy One, Blessed be He answered: ‘When you will have reached the lowest steps, at that moment I will redeem you.'” (Yalkut Hashea 533, cited by KiTov, page 121.)

KiTov provides examples of how our people rise up from the depths of despair. When Yitzchak was born, the people of the world said that he is destined to be a slave because of the promise of G-d to Abraham that “your children will be slaves in a land which is not theirs.” Instead, Yitzchak became the father of the great nation and the free people.

When Yitzchak was bound on the altar it seemed as if there would be no future to Abraham, and that his progeny would perish from off the face of the earth. And yet, Yitzchak survived to have his own children and to preserve life for future generations.

When Yaakov put on the garments of his brother Esau, he was afraid that his father would discover his deception, which would bring a curse upon him rather than a blessing. Despite the deception, Yaakov was blessed for all generations.

And so, points out KiTov, “In the long history of Israel, troubles and dark sorrows became the basis for salvation and light. In fact,” says KiTov, “the darker the troubles, the greater was the light which came forth afterwards.”

Nisan is the month of redemption. G-d has made Nisan the month and the time of salvation. The redemption will burst forth from the midst of darkness, and as we tremble to the point of despair, the glory of G-d will shine forth.

There is a special Psalm which Jews recite on the Sabbath day. The psalmist, in Psalm 92, writes: “L’hagid ba’boker chas’deh’cha, veh’emunat’cha ba’laylot.” We speak of G-d’s loving-kindness in the morning, and of His faithfulness at night. In the morning, when everything is bright and shiny it’s easy to speak of G-d’s loving-kindness. At night, in the dread of darkness, it is very difficult to see any light emanating from G-d, and almost impossible to express a sense of hopefulness. That is why throughout the night we must rely on “Emmunah,” faith.

These past months of Intifada II has been a period of great darkness for the Jewish people. Not only because so many Jewish and even non-Jewish soldiers and civilians have been victims of the savagery of the Palestinians, but because our own people have been forced to act cruelly in order to insure even basic security.

While it is very difficult in times such as these to see light, we need to be strong and speak of G-d’s faithfulness in this night.

We pray that the month of Nisan, which begins next week, will usher in a season of renewal–renewal of spirit, renewal of courage, renewal of faithfulness, and a renewal of peace. We pray that the enemies of our people will see the light in this month of Nisan. May they desire goodness for their children, as we desire for ours. May they lay down their swords, and pick up their pruning hooks. May we all plant in joy and reap together in happiness.

May you be blessed.