The culmination of the four parshiyos read publicly in Adar, leading up to Shabbos Hagadol and Pesach, is called Parshas Hachodesh, the parshah in the Torah dealing with the korban Pesach, eating matzah, the prohibitions of chometz, etc. Yet it is known as Parshas Hachodesh, based on its opening statement, “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it is for you the first of the months of the year.” The import of this posuk goes far beyond its simple meaning. We learn from this posuk the concept of Klal Yisroel, through its Bais Din Hagadol, having the power to decide the Jewish calendar, i.e., the dates of the year. (And it must immediately be realized that we are not talking about mere dates, a convenience which allows us to schedule things. The Jewish calendar is the flow of time, in terms of the events which shaped and formed us, which continue to do so, and the spiritual influence and forces which flow and are channeled our way at these points in time.) We do so, of course, through our being granted this mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh and ibur shanim. This is where we are granted the capability — and the responsibility — to decide when Rosh Chodesh will be, i.e., when will the month actually start (it could theoretically start on either day number thirty or day number thirty-one from the previous month’s start) and which years will have thirteen months (such as the one we are in right now!) (The reason we do not fulfill this mitzvah today the way it was meant to be fulfilled is one more piece of fallout from the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the loss of the Sanhedrin.)
And so we control the setting of time and its place in our lives. We decide which day will have the holiness of Pesach, on which night we shall eat matzah and tell the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim. And this ability is the opening mitzvah which then seems to proceed very naturally, without pause nor break, to the mitzvah of the korban Pesach and the news of the impending geulah.
Why? Was Kiddush Hachodesh a necessary part of the geulah process? How does this endowment of power play an apparently essential role in our redemption, in our becoming a Nation?
We go back to the very first Rashi in our Torah, who cites a Rav Yitzchak who says that by right, by logic, the Torah should have begun with “the first mitzvah commanded to all of Jewry as a nation, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh.” The story of our Nation, our birth as the Am Segulah, the beginning of Torah as a book of Laws, should by rights start with the first mitzvah. Why this seemingly peripheral commandment?
And indeed what is this mitzvah doing here at all, right smack at the beginning of Pesach, geulah, matzah, chometz, makas bechoros, and Yetzias Mitzrayim? It’s a bit jarring to go from a command to control the calendar to the mitzvah of korban Pesach in back-to-back pesukim.
The point of “starting the Torah” with the mitzvos commanded to the Jewish People as a whole goes beyond the issuance of those mitzvos. It is a fundamental statement, pertaining to a new type of creation! Yes, in Bereishis we read and learn of the creation of the physical world, and the creation and the roots of the Jewish People. However, we are told by Chazal that the sustaining of the world, its existence during that time period, was a special chessed of Hashem, since there was no inherent spiritual dimension to the beriah. And so Hashem sustained the world, as it were, b’chessed, represented by the twenty-six times we say “ki l’olam chasdo” when we recite Tehillim chapter 136. The flow of existence, so to speak, was from Hashem down to us.
Which sounds like the way things are, or must be. Yet Nefesh Hachaim, throughout sha’ar alef, teaches us that Hashem’s “game plan” for the universe has it in the reverse! That Hakadosh Baruch Hu, after Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, made it that the entire beriah, all of existence, the world we know of and the worlds we don’t, the world of physicality and the worlds of spirituality, the worlds of the malachim, serafim, ofanim, the upper worlds, the cosmos… all is now dependent on — us! On Man, on Klal Yisroel and its adherence to Torah and the will of Hashem. We are the masters of the worlds’ fate, for so Hashem has decreed; after the Torah was transmitted below, the flow of existence is from actions down here on earth, impacting upwards into all the heavenly spheres.
This is literally a “second creation.” It is a reconstruction of the functioning of the universe, with a tremendous responsibility thrust upon us.
But it is the real beriah! And so we now understand that first Rashi on a much deeper, more fundamental level. Even in terms of portraying the beriah, the Torah should have started with the mitzvos and its Laws, as they are the fundamental underpinnings of the beriah, not just the goal and purpose of it. They are the determinants of its workings and functioning.
And which mitzvah exhibits this philosophy, this theology, this reality? Kiddush hachodesh! Yes, in the giving of that mitzvah, Hashem “cedes” control of the sequence of time to us, the Jewish people, through the Torah. We will determine where we stand in relation to events and history, we will determine when we celebrate which Holidays, we will determine which spiritual emanations are entering our world from on high and when. When you reflect upon that, it is amazing! It is actually halachic, legal proof to the principle of the Nefesh Hachaim: Hashem wants us in control of the ebb and flow of spirituality, which will depend on our actions, our decisions, our choices!
This then is the prototype, the paradigm of Klal Yisroel as they leave Mitzrayim to receive the Torah and to be commanded in the mitzvos.
And it should become the paradigm of every single individual. You are living and serving Hashem not just for yourself, not even just for your family, not only just for your immediate friends and neighbors. You affect the cosmos, and your vision must spread beyond your “daled amos” and you must realize that all your actions have ripple effects in places unimaginable to you. And that, my friends, is unfettered freedom, and the diametric opposite of being a slave.