“The Original Jewish Renewal Movement”
(Updated and revised from Vayakhel-Pekudei 5762-2002)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This Shabbat, two parashiot, Vayakhel and Pekudei, are read, which conclude the book of Exodus. These parashiot describe the actual erecting and dedication of the Mishkan—the Tabernacle.

This Shabbat, an additional portion, Exodus 12:1-20 is read from a second Torah. Known as parashat Hachodesh, this portion announces that the month of Nissan, the first month of the year, is soon to commence. In the year 5781, Rosh Chodesh Nissan occurs on Saturday night and Sunday, March 13th and 14th. Passover, of course, will be observed 15 days after Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Exodus 12:2 reads: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים, רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה , 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 לָכֶם –“lachem,” to you,is composed of the exact same letters as the word מֶלֶךְ –“melech, king, indicating that the month of Nissan 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 Nissan, we publicize that this month is indeed honored and hallowed.

The Jewish calendar has several important propitious times. The month of Tishrei, is a propitious time for teshuva, repentance. The month of Av, is an inauspicious time for calamity and misfortune. The month of Nissan is the propitious time for גְּאוּלָה –“geulah,” redemption. The Hebrew word חֹדֶשׁ –“Chodesh,” month, has the same root letters as the Hebrew word חָדָשׁ –“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 Isaac 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 (Genesis 15:13) that, “Your children will be slaves in a land which is not theirs.” Instead, Isaac became the father of the great nation and the free people.

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

When Jacob 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, Jacob 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.”

Nissan is the month of redemption. G-d has made Nissan 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 92:3, writes: לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ, וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת .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 “Emunah,” faith.

These past months of the ubiquitous pandemic have been a period of great darkness for all people. Hundreds of thousands of wonderful, otherwise healthy, humans, of all stripes and colors, have succumbed to the dreaded COVID-19 virus. Normal life routines have come to a halt, freedom to congregate with others has been profoundly limited, and even the ability to visit with children and grandchildren have been sharply curtailed.

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

We pray, that the month of Nissan, 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 remarkable development, and aggressive distribution, of the COVID vaccine will finally bring the COVID nightmare to an end.

We hope that the enemies of the Jewish people, who have exploited these perilous times to attack our people and the State of Israel, will see the light in this new month of Nissan. May their desire be to see 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 good health and abundant happiness.

May you be blessed.