In my parasha, Bo, the last three of the Ten Plagues take place: Locusts, Darkness, and The Killing of the First Born. After the ninth plague, God says that there will be one more plague brought upon the land of Egypt, and tells Moses to go before Pharaoh and tell him so. Right after that, God says to Moses and Aaron, "Ha'Chodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim Rishon Hu Lachem L'Chodshei Ha'Shanah."
"This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you." By saying, "This month shall be the first of the months," God is giving us the commandment for three different celebrations: the first of the month, the first month of the year, and the first month of the years to come. The first of the month is called Rosh Chodesh, which literally means the head of the months.
As I was studying my parashah, I wondered to myself "Why does God give us the commandment of Rosh Chodesh in the middle of the Pesach story?!" I mean, how important can the months be for the Jewish people?!
When I was studying this question with my Aunt Tamar, I told her that I never understood why months in Judaism are so important.
We have prayers for the new month and we have additional Torah readings and different customs, all for Rosh Chodesh! So nu? Why is Rosh Chodesh so important that God mentions it now, right before the last plague?
One reason may be that as soon as the last plague takes place, the Israelites will be freed from Egypt, and become their own nation. The announcement that the Jews will have their own calendar is the final break from slavery in Egypt. They themselves will then be in control of their own food, labor, and most importantly, time.
This is a really big deal! For two-hundred-ten years the Israelites had to eat whenever the Egyptians let them, and sleep whenever the Egyptians gave them time. The Israelites were physically and mentally enslaved to the Egyptians. But now, the Israelites get to be in control of their own months and own time. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for month, Chodesh, comes from the same root as the word Chadash, which means new. Is it just a coincidence, or is it that by giving the Israelites the commandment of Rosh Chodesh, it is God's way of showing the Israelites that a new time is coming?
Rosh Chodesh could have also been a form of added reassurance for the Israelites. At the time of the tenth plague, the Killing of the First Born, the Israelites were probably very scared. After all, it was not so long ago that their own baby boys were ordered by Pharaoh to be killed, and now it's going to happen to the Egyptians. When God gives the commandment of Rosh Chodesh, it is perhaps God's way of letting the Israelites know that there is going to be survival after this terrifying Tenth Plague.
The Israelites may have thought, "Since we got this commandment of Rosh Chodesh, it must mean that we will survive after all, because otherwise there wouldn't be any point in giving us the commandment in the first place."
At the time of the last plague, The Killing of the First Born, the Israelites knew that they were about to be freed and that they would all leave Egypt. As it says in Chapter 11, verse 1: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; after that, he shall let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you out of here, one and all.'"
So they were right on the cusp of becoming a free nation. Rosh Chodesh is the first commandment that the Israelites receive as a people. This pivotal commandment brought the Israelites together, showing that they would not only have freedom from slavery, but also freedom to be in charge of their own time - to use time as they wish.
The Jews as a people are maturing and embarking on a great journey where they don't know what will happen next and even if they will survive.
I am embarking on a similar experience as I become a Bar-Mitzvah. I now begin my own personal journey in the world to discover who I am, and what my goals are in life.
My Bar-Mitzvah is the first step toward becoming a learned and responsible young man, just as the commandment of Rosh Chodesh is the first step of the Exodus and self- determination for the Jews.
If we look beyond Parashat Bo, we learn that the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. During the forty years, the Israelites were going through more preparation to enter the promised land.
So how is this related to what I've been talking about? This period of forty years is when the Israelites really mature, with God alongside them, guiding them all the way. I, too, will begin to wander down different roads, and take many sharp turns, and even walk around in circles, just as I'm sure the Israelites did. And what the Israelites and I have in common is that we both have God standing right by us, guiding us along the way. Shabbat Shalom.
Ariel Platt would like to give a special thanks to Deb Fink, Rabbi Ferris, Tamar and Noach Bittlemin, and Wendy Rossov who all helped me a lot with my studying and writing.