BO (Exodus, 10:1-13:16) — “Double Dating”

A few weeks ago we opened up our new calendars and re-taught ourselves how to write checks.   The day after dating our checks 12/31/06, we switched over to 1/1/07. 

This shortcut in check writing actually presents us with a religious problem.

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It was almost time for the Exodus.  Our People had been slaves in Egypt for too long, and it was time to go home.  The Egyptians were undergoing plague after plague for their stubborn refusal to release us.  We were about to become a Nation.

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

Passover, the commemoration of the Exodus, is celebrated on the 15th of Nissan.  Nissan, which is actually its Babylonian name, is referred to by the Torah as simply, “… the First Month.”   None of the months of the year have names in the Torah …  they are simply counted from the beginning.  The month following Passover is “the Second Month.”  Ironically, Tishrei, the month in which Rosh Hashanah, the so-called “New Year,” occurs, is referred to as “the Seventh Month.” (See “Nissan Maximum”.)

Some Commentaries see this statement of, “This month will be … to you… the first month of the year” as obligatory.   Nachmanides explains that the reason the Torah doesn’t assign actual names to the months is so that we have an ongoing reminder that G-d took us out of Egypt.

This is similar to our weekly calendar.  The six days of work week have no names.  What the world calls “Sunday, Monday, Friday, and Saturday,” we call “First Day, Second Day, Sixth Day, and Shabbos.”  We spend the entire week counting the days until Shabbos.  The names we use for the days of the week are a fulfillment of the Mitzvah, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”  Similarly, says Nachmanides, our monthly count from the month of the Exodus keeps us focused on that great miracle all year.

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There are authorities who rule, based upon the above explanation, that one is not permitted to abbreviate the secular months of January, February, etc., as 1, 2, etc.  To refer to January as the first month would appear to violate the Mitzvah of considering Nissan to be the first.  Other authorities (such as the Chasam Sofer) argue against the use of the secular months entirely!

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My point here is not to tell you how to write your checks.  Many authorities permit the secular number system.  Rather, we should use this concept to identify our priorities.  Are we “January people”?  Are we “April 14 people”?  Do we base the priorities of our life around the secular world?

To be sure, we live in a secular world and need to be able to interface with that world.  But how do we identify ourselves?  Do we let the outside world tell us who and what we are, or do we turn to the Torah and let it guide us in all our decisions, including “secular” ones, such as business ethics and morality?

In Jewish life there are several New Years.  Next Shabbos is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees.  No, it’s not a Jewish Arbor Day, nor is it a “Go-Hug-a-Tree-and-Protest-Against-Big-Oil-and Nuclear-Energy Day.”  It is a day when we acknowledge G-d as the source of livelihood.  It is a time to recognize the special status of the Land of Israel and its produce.  And yes, it is also a time to express APPROPRIATE concern about the environment.

Nissan is the New Year for our birth as a Nation that follows G-d’s Laws.  Tishrei, in the fall, is the New Year when G-d judges the entire world to decide what the coming year will bring.

These are all essential priorities that should define how we approach everything else, including January 1, April 14, and July 4.

Let’s look at it our way, and let’s look at it their way.  On our New Year we eat traditional foods such as apples dipped in honey, accompanied by a prayer that the Master of the World will bless us with a sweet and prosperous year.  Or, alternatively, we could treat ourselves to that traditional January 1 breakfast.

Aspirin! 🙂

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 24, 2007 at 7:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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