BO (Exodus, 10:1-13:16) — “Nissan Maximum”

You may recall that I mentioned a few weeks back that I don’t celebrate December 31/January 1. Everyone knows that for us, the New Year began four months ago. Indeed, if you ask any gentile who has any contact at all with Jews, he will tell you that the Jewish New Year begins in the fall, on Rosh Hashanah. We dress in our holiday best, go to Shul, and wish each other a Happy New Year. 

However, the idea of a September New Year seems to be contradicted by this week’s Torah Reading.

The Pharaoh had been warned that the tenth and final Plague was coming, and that he himself would soon beg the Israelites to leave. Moses was about to receive several Commandments. The first was the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, the monthly festival of the New Moon.

This month will be for you the head of the months. It will be the first month of the year.” (Exodus, 12:2)

In addition to giving Moses the mitzvah of observing Rosh Chodesh every month, He made it clear that the month of Nissan, the month of the Exodus, was to be the first month of the Jewish calendar. None of the months have names in the Torah. Rather, they are referred to, based upon their order of appearance after Nissan. The Torah tells us that the Passover offering is brought on “the 14th day OF THE FIRST MONTH.” (Numbers, 27:16) The first of Tishrei, the date that is known to the world as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is called “the first day of THE SEVENTH MONTH!!” (Ibid, 29:1)

How can we celebrate the first of Tishrei in the fall as the New Year, when the Torah tells us very clearly that year really begins on the first of Nissan in the spring?

The answer is that there are several New Years, commemorating different things. The Talmud, in the beginning of the tractate appropriately named “Rosh Hashanah,” tells us that there are four Rosh Hashanahs. (One of them, Tu B’Shevat, is coming up soon and will be discussed, G-d willing, next week.)

The Rosh Hashanah that is celebrated in the fall, Tishrei 1, commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve. It is, in reality, THE WORLD’S New Year, our common ancestors’ “birthday.” It is a day on which G-d assesses the accomplishments of Adam and Eve’s “grandchildren.”

Nissan 1, on the other hand, is OUR Rosh Hashanah. As G-d said to Moses, “This month will be FOR YOU the head of the months.” Nissan is the month of our freedom. Nissan is the month in which we acquired our national identity. Nissan is the month in which we became unique. Nissan is the month in which we first received Mitzvahs.

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I read this week of a school in Israel that is bitterly opposed by the neighborhood in which it is opening. The school, which intends to open in the town of Cholon, represents a threat to the values in the local community. This school, may G-d protect us, is A RELIGIOUS SCHOOL!! It is a school for young Russian immigrants, and the secular, anti-religious neighbors see the school as a danger. They are proud of the non-religious culture that has developed in their community, and don’t want to risk it by having “them” come to “our” neighborhood.

The local paper says that “… residents fear that real estate prices will plummet and the quality of life in the area will be affected…” One local resident states with pride that his street currently does not have a single “Chareidi” (Standard mistranslation — “ultra-Orthodox”) family. He complains “‘this development negates our identity as secular Jews.’ “

In other words, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Replace the word “religious” with “black,” “Hispanic,” or “Jewish,” and in the U.S., you’ve got a constitutional lawsuit. Replace it with “Arab” or “Palestinian,” and in Israel, you’ve got an international incident.

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For two thousand years we were a nation without a homeland. For two thousand years we wandered from place to place, from persecution to persecution. What kept us going?

Before taking us out of Egypt, G-d gave Moses a list of Mitzvahs to fulfill. In order for us to “deserve” to be emancipated, we had to “earn” our freedom. We had to bring the Passover offering. We had to tell our Egyptian neighbors that we were planning to eat roasted lamb, an Egyptian god, for dessert at our Seder. Not a popular concept. We had to smear lamb’s blood on our doorposts, (the first “Mezuzahs“) to demonstrate that this was a religious Jewish home. We were given several divine directives: Matzah, Bris, Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Pidyon HaBen.

We have survived the millennia by maintaining our unique identities. We celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the fall by joining the brotherhood of Mankind in standing before G-d in Judgment. We celebrate our JEWISH NATIONHOOD on the Rosh Hashanah of Nissan, by engaging in expressions of Jewish identity — fulfillment of G-d’s Torah.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives 

“How Many Plagues Does It Take to Punish a Pharaoh?”, or, “A Plague on TEN of Your Houses?” (2012)

… G-d told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “G-d said, ‘My firstborn son is  Israel…You have refused to release him…I will kill your firstborn son.’”

As we all know, he refused to release G-d’s “firstborn”, and eventually he sustained the loss of the Egyptian firstborn in the Tenth Plague.  Based upon this original warning, it appears that the only punishment necessary for refusing to release the slaves was the tenth Plague.  Why the other nine?…

Read more.

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“Time Off for Bad Behavior” (2010) 

The numbers don’t add up.

The habitation of the Israelites during which they dwelled in  Egypt was four hundred thirty years.  It was at the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, the legions of G-d left the  land of Egypt.  (Exodus, 12:40-41)

There’s a problem with the math.

…  Obviously, our stay in  Egypt must have been considerably shorter.  In fact, says Rashi, we were only there for 210 years.

… what happened to the other 190? 

Read more.

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“Just Desserts” (2009)

…The lamb was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.  …Now the Egyptians would suffer the anguish of seeing their god made into a schwarma sandwich…

This is difficult to understand.  Our People were enslaved.  We were beaten.  Jewish children were murdered so the Pharaoh could bathe in their blood.  In the major scheme of things, not getting the beef seems to be an almost insignificant addition of insult to injury.  G-d brought ten plagues against the Egyptians.  He devastated their country.  He shattered their economy.  The god-roasting of the Passover Lamb seems to be an inconsequential supplementary slap at an already chastised sinner…

Read more.

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“Double Dating” (2007)

A few weeks ago we opened up our new calendars and re-taught ourselves how to write checks … 

There are authorities who rule… that one is not permitted to abbreviate the secular months of January, February, etc., as 1, 2, etc.  …  Other authorities … argue against the use of the secular months entirely!…

Read more.

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“Pharaoh’s Brother” (2006)

One of the unsung heroes of the Exodus from  Egypt is the Pharaoh’s older brother.  He was the one who finally brought the Pharaoh to his senses.

What’s that?  You’ve never heard of the Pharaoh’s older brother?  Well, I did tell you he was an UNSUNG hero!…

Pharaoh lost it.

Get outta here!” he screamed.  And don’t ever come back!  If you dare come to see me again, you’re a dead man!”  (Loose translation of Exodus,10:27)…

Read more.

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“Lox, Cream Cheese, and … UNLEAVENED BAGELS??!!!” (2005)

You don’t have to be religious to feel Jewish…

Pharaoh no longer refused to let the Israelites leave.  Not only did he permit them to leave, he INSISTED that they leave.  Immediately!

… we have been in exile for close to two thousand years  … How is it that our ancestors would not have been able to withstand a moment more than 190 years of exile, while we continue to exist into our third millennium?

… there is a very big difference between our generation and that generation…

Read more.

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“The Dog Days of Egypt” (2004)

… He’s doing it again… That obnoxious know-it-all at the office who always manages to grate on your nerves.  He “knows” who’s going to win the primaries and who’s going to win the Super Bowl.  He’s got an opinion about everything, and he’s consistently full of baloney.

You really want to put him in his place.  You’d love to tell him, just this once, exactly what you think of him and his crazy notions.  Still better, you’d just love to punch him in the nose! …

Read more.

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“If I Could Only Be Like ___” (2003)

… G-d said to Moses, …”Go to Pharaoh, because I have made his heart stubborn …

Was this fair?  It looks like a set-up!  It looks like G-d is forcing Pharaoh to stubbornly refuse to release the Israelites, and then He plans to punish Pharaoh for being stubborn!

Why should Pharaoh be punished?  He should plead “Not Guilty, by reason of Divine Coercion!”  …

Read more.

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“Nissan Maximum” (2002)

… How can we celebrate the first of Tishrei in the fall as the New Year, when the Torah tells us very clearly that year really begins on the first of Nissan in the spring? …

Read more.

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“Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts…I’ve Already Made Up My Mind!”  (2001)

…Egypt is in shambles. The king’s own advisors have begged him to wake up and smell the coffee and realize that he is destroying his own country by continuing to disregard G-d’s demands.

Now it’s time to take off the kid gloves and get tough! …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 16, 2002 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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