“ 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)
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.
We also read a very dramatic statement n this context in the Talmud;
Rabbi Yohanan says “Whoever makes the blessing for the new moon in its proper time, it is as if he receives the Divine presence “. ”(Sanhedrin 42b)
Why would that be?
The children of Israel in Egypt were slaves. They had no control over time. In reality 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. Ever since Adam and Eve were introduced to the specter of death, the time clock began to tick consistently and ominously.
In Hebrew the word for “time” is zman .Rabbi Moshe Shapiro of Jerusalem teaches that zman is from the same root word as the word hazmana which means invitation .Time is not a raging river that carries us into the unknown. It is actually an invitation into an appointed destiny.
The Hebrew slaves of Egypt had to be taught this truth ,so G-d commands them to declare a new month. G-d is telling these people that He has given them the power to sanctify the month. Furthermore it is not only about declaring the month’s beginning but it is about filling it with holiness and purpose .Their choice of sanctification also determines the arrival of the appointed feast days. They have been given this power over time by giving them the ability to fill time with meaning.
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). Yet we must also connect to the power of renewal and of new beginnings. The Jewish People are likened to the moon. 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.
.As we recite in the birkat halevanah, “the blessing of the moon, (Sanhedrin 42a):
“Praised are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the skies with his word, and all heaven’s host with the breath of his mouth. ….He is the true Creator who acts faithfully, and he has told the moon to renew itself. It is a beautiful crown for the people carried by God from birth who will likewise be renewed in the future in order to proclaim the beauty of their creator for his glorious majesty.
Finally we are also taught a third lesson. As we noted the statement by Rabbi Yochanan “Whoever makes the blessing for the new moon in its proper time, it is as if he receives the Divine presence ”(Sanhedrin 42b)” and we must explain the reason for this.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk once asked his students “what language does G-d speak?” One student said “Hebrew”. Another said in all languages and another said in “no language”. Rabbi Menachem Mendel answered “you are all partially correct, yet “Man” is the language of G-d. “Man has been given the role of expressing G-dliness in the world.
Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too are the people of G-d directed to reflect the light of G-d. Even in the midst of the darkness of the night when the light of the sun cannot be perceived, its reflection is presented by the moon. Being a “ light of the world” ( Isaiah 42:6 ) simply means being a reflection of G-d’s light in the world.
That is the meaning behind Rabbi Yochanan’s statement about receiving the Divine Presence. That is to say that receiving the Divine Presence is actually about reflecting it unto the world even in times of darkness and exile. “To declare in the morning Your loving-kindness and Your faithfulness at night”( Psalm 92:3)