Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Shmittah = Trust in God

Parshat Behar 

by Rabbi Avi Billet

And God said to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, to say, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them that when you come to the land that I am giving you, the land will rest a Sabbath for God.”

Rashi famously asks “What connection exists between Sinai and the Sabbatical year [that merits their being mentioned next to each other]?”

The Kli Yakar notes the parallel between the 49 days leading up to the giving of the Torah on the 50th day and the 49 years which lead up to the Yovel/Jubilee, which is the 50th year. As the mountain was built up in stature and became forbidden from planting and any work on the day of Revelation, a day on which liberty and freedom from Egypt was finalized, and being under the wings of the Almighty was concretized, God told Moshe about how the same concept of holiness would exist for the land, 49 years leading to a 50th.

The air of Israel is like Sinai, its qualities bring wisdom to its inhabitants. In its own way, it needs to have built into its foundation a parallel to Sinai: 49+1, the sounding of a Shofar, proclamation of the oneness of God and the liberty the Israelites have from being under the divine wing.

Jumping on this foundation, Kli Yakar quotes others in asking the question: why is one of the punishments for not keeping Shmittah (Sabbatical year) seriously is being exiled from the land? Presumably, if the argument is oft-made that Shmittah is assumed to be good for the land, then let it be that not observing its laws would result in a consequence of nothing growing!

Exile would just mean the land would lay fallow altogether!

Kli Yakar explains that Shmittah is a means for establishing roots of “Emunah” (trust in God). God was concerned that people would come to the land and think that all the work they put into making things grow would result in their feeling “My strength and fortitude is what made all of this happen,” thus forgetting God.

In simple terms, Kli Yakar notes how the seven year cycle in Israel is different from how farmers elsewhere might take care of their land, so it could rest and strengthen for a new growing season. But the promise God gives for Shmittah is that if the land rests in the seventh year, the food which grows from the sixth year’s planting will last for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years. Whether it will continue to grow each year or will simply have a shelf life that is unprecedented is a debate among the authorities. But no matter how one looks at it, those three years of sustenance is simply miraculous.

“Through all of these wonders you see in the land you will come to know that the land is Mine. And through this your eyes will be raised towards God, as we see from the Manna, which fell daily, so the people would see that their sustenance came from God.”

I don’t think it advisable for people to live this way always – to expect that their daily bread comes from God alone. People must make efforts, have jobs, work, and do their part to make sure their daily bread can be placed on the table.

However, there is something rather enamoring in the idea that my six years of toil is rewarded with a God-given guarantee of food for the year I do not work, and for the year following that year of rest, when work resumes but we cannot rely on our daily bread from previous year’s work. Only God’s guarantee that everything will be alright sustains me.

Those who lived through such promises surely felt God’s presence much more closely. Were we to only merit to feel God’s presence in that way, how holy a nation we would truly be.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Chillul Hashem v Kiddush Hashem

Here is a different essay on the same subject - approached a little differently

Parshat Emor

by Rabbi Avi Billet

After introducing us to the concepts of not bringing an animal as an offering before it is eight days old, and after telling us that the animal and its parent (Rashi distinguishes between the animal’s mother and father) can not be slaughtered on the same day, the Torah tells us that we must keep God’s commandments. And – “You shall not desecrate My holy name, and I should be sanctified among the children of Israel.” (22:32)

In the Sefer HaChinukh, the author divides this verse into two commandments, one against desecrating God’s name (making a “Chillul Hashem”), and one promoting the sanctification of the same (making a “Kiddush Hashem”).

 He depicts the desecration of God’s name on three levels: the first involves violating a very serious commandment when enemies are pushing one to do so, the second involves violating a sin that is just meant to cause anger or angst (such as lying in court), and the third is simply not behaving in a way that gives people a good flavor for Jewish people and therefore for the God we claim to represent – such as promising to pay someone, and not following through with it quickly.

 Rabbenu Bachaye describes Chillul Hashem as being one of the most serious violations a Jew can commit. Even Yom Kippur doesn’t bring about atonement for the desecration of God’s name!

 However, Rabbenu Bachaye does give a way to atone for what one has desecrated, and that is the second half of our verse. Sanctify God’s name in a manner which is opposite the method and form of desecration, that overturns the desecration of God’s name. Proverbs 16:6 notes that with “kindness and truth sins can be atoned for…”

Bringing the example of Chananya, Mishael and Azarya from the book of Daniel, he notes, quoting the Sifra (9:4) that sanctification of God must come from a place where one is not expecting anything, but on the contrary, is ready to die for one’s beliefs. The reason Chananya, Mishael and Azarya are viewed in the way they are is because they were not expecting to be saved from a fiery furnace. They were ready to give up their lives rather than submit to the heresies to which they were being forced to participate.

 Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky asked an interesting question on this subject, as to how people in the Middle Ages who gave up their lives for God’s name justified taking the lives of their children as well? (Think Crusades, Inquisition, etc.) The children were not obligated to give up their lives at that age!

He answered that had the children been spared, they would have been taken by their enemies (assuming the enemies would not have killed them too!) and would have been raised in a manner equivalent to a forced conversion, which would have also turned into a desecration of God’s name, Jewish children being raised against the holy teachings of the Torah.

 It should never happen that we ought to be faced with such a difficult challenge that causes us to give up our lives for God’s name. But would we be prepared to do so?

Every time I see Jews fighting over some matter of ideology, politics, life-choices, I wonder if we have lost sight of the bigger picture. We are in this Jewish life together, we all have the same job to sanctify God’s name, and when we forget that, we cause fighting in our own ranks which is a bigger Chillul Hashem than the Chillul Hashem we think we are preventing. Let us remember that the enemies of the Jewish people think our very existence is a Chillul Hashem. They think the state of Israel is a Chillul Hashem. They think a chassid wearing Chassidic garb is a Chillul Hashem. They think a Jew owning a bank is a Chillul Hashem. They think a Jew asking for rent to be paid on time is a Chillul Hashem.

Obviously these kinds of thoughts from people who hate Jews no matter what are irrelevant to the discussion.

 Our job is to be good, honest people, to represent God honorably. If we are not doing that, then we are certainly desecrating God’s name in the eyes of those who may want to judge us favorably!

 We should always remember that those who hate us don’t need an excuse. We should go above and beyond our emotions to remember that internal strife and hatred towards our fellow Jews is the biggest Chillul Hashem we can commit because we give fodder to those who are looking for an excuse to see us as people not deserving of respect, and our God as not deserving respect. We owe it to ourselves and to God to rise above any and all internal strife towards our fellow Jews. Issues can be discussed, compromises can be reached. But hating another Jew is desecrating God’s name.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

What Was Molekh?

Parshat Kedoshim

by Rabbi Avi Billet

One of the more strange rituals discussed in the Torah is Molekh. There is a debate as to what it was, what its purpose was, etc. But this is how the Torah begins the instructions concerning Molekh. “If any person, whether a [born] Israelite or a proselyte who joins Israel, gives any of his children to Molekh, he must be put to death. The local people must pelt him to death with stones. I will direct My anger against that person, and will cut him off [spiritually] from among his people, since he has given his children to Molekh, thus defiling that which is holy to Me and profaning My holy name.” (20:2-3) 

To give both sides: Targum Yonatan is of the view that the goal of Molekh was for the child to die. 

Noting that Molekh was discussed in last week’s parsha (18:21), Rabbenu Bachaye quotes Maimonides (Moreh Nvukhim 3:37), who writes, the following to explain what the Molekh ritual was all about.

The passage now presented is the Friedlander translation of the Guide to the Perplexed, p. 336 (can be found online here https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp173.htm)

It is not the place here to address Maimonides’ anachronistic thoughts regarding women’s frame-of-mind. There are certainly stereotypes about both women and men that might continue to be used as generalizations, but as there are a. many exceptions to whatever rules, and b. a very different reality in terms of education in general today, I intend to stick to the basic insights regarding Molekh and some superstitious practices, regardless of which parent might (or might not) buy into it. 
“We must also point out that originators of false, baseless, and useless principles scheme and plan for the firm establishment of their faith; and tell their fellow-men that a certain plague will befall those who will not perform the act by which that faith is supported and confirmed for ever; this plague may one day accidentally befall a person, who will then direct his attention to the performance of that act, and adopt idolatry. It being well known that people are naturally most in fear and dread of the loss of their property and their children, the worshippers of fire spread the tale, that if any one did not pass his son and daughter through the fire, he will lose his children by death. There is no doubt that on account of this absurd menace every one at once obeyed, out of pity and sympathy for the child; especially as it was a trifling and a light thing that was demanded, in passing the child over the fire. We must further take into account that the care of young children is intrusted (sic) to women, who are generally weak-minded, and ready to believe everything, as is well known. The Law makes, therefore, an earnest stand against this practice, and uses in reference to it stronger terms than in any other kind of idolatry; namely, "he defileth my sanctuary, and profaneth my holy name" (Lev. xx. 3). The true prophet then declares in the name of God that the very act which is performed for the purpose of keeping the child alive, will bring death upon him who performs it, and destruction upon his seed. Comp. "And I will set my face against that man and against his family," etc. (ibid. xx. 5). Know that traces of this practice have survived even to the present day, because it was widespread in the world. You can see how midwives take a young child wrapped in its swaddling-clothes, and after having placed incense of a disagreeable smell on the fire, swing the child in the smoke over that fire. This is certainly a kind of passing children through the fire, and we must not do it. Reflect on the evil cunning of the author of this doctrine; how people continued to adhere to this doctrine, and how, in spite of the opposition of the Law during thousands of years, its name is not blotted out, and its traces are still in existence.” 

Rabbenu Bachaye concludes his remarks noting, 
“I’ve already written about this in Vayikra 18:21, that some of the commentators believed that the child was burned when passed multiple times through the fire, until he died. This, however, was not the view of Maimonides, for he believed the child was not burned but was merely passed between fires (and survived!). According to his words, the verse (Devarim 12:31) ‘Do not worship God your Lord with such practices. In worshiping their gods, [these nations], committed all sorts of perversions hated by God. They would even burn their sons and daughters in fire as a means of worshiping their gods!’ refers to a different form of idolatry that is not Molekh.” 
In other words, Maimonides was of the view that there were two different rituals: a passing through to survival was Molekh, while the pass through to death was something else, a different kind of idolatry. 

The draw to Molekh was superstition and what we now know to be a false sense of security in response to fear mongering perpetrated by the Molekh idolators. 

If it’s just a superstition and it is meaningless and harmless, then why should God be upset about it? 

Because believing in the god that is Molekh in anyway is “thus defiling that which is holy to Me and profaning My holy name.” (Vayikra 20:3) 

Molekh thrives on fear. 

FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Our decisions and choices should never be driven by fear. Instead, we should find the strength to believe and trust in God himself, and pray that He carries us through to the other side, to where we seek to be.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Distinguishing the Action From the Person

Parshat Acharei Mot 

by Rabbi Avi Billet

Chapter 18 of the Book of Vayikra contains a number of negative mitzvot – things we are not supposed to do. Many of the negative actions are labeled “to’evot” – an interesting word which has many possible meanings.

Some possibilities: abomination, perversion, disgusting perversion, taboo.

In this chapter, the Torah lists a number of deeds which fit into this category of “to’evah,” but the Torah remains consistent in focusing on labeling the deed, not the person engaging in the act.

The comparison is made several times to the inhabitants of Egypt and Canaan, who were guilty of these things, while the deeds of the Canaanites were specifically utilized to prove why they were undeserving of remaining in the land bearing their name.

A warning is issued that those who follow the ways of these activities will be cut off from the Israelite nation (18:29).

Some of the commentaries (Ramban, Rabbenu Bachaye, etc) write of 3 types of “Karet” (excision from the nation).

The following is Ramban’s take:

There are three methods of Karet. The first is with respect to an individual. The second regards the souls of people. The third is regarding the soul of an individual. Quoting the Sifra, he concludes that “Karet” is from the word which means destruction.

The first type references someone who is generally righteous but who stumbled in giving way to a karet-inducing sin. He might die young, but his soul will remain intact. This person will have a share in the World to Come. 
The second type references someone who is sinful in life. This individual does not die young, but the soul is cut off from any next-world experience. 
The third type experiences karet on two different levels, in body and in soul. This aspect of karet is limited to one who commits idolatry or blasphemy. The Talmud in Shavuot extends this punishment to one who throws off the yoke of Heaven and speaks mockingly of the Torha. 

Ramban’s analysis continues and he speaks of the different ramifications for the soul and body, some of the other definitions of “karet,” and what kinds of repercussions a person can experience in this world and in the next.

While some definitions of karet do include an impact on the body, most focus solely on the experience of the soul, especially after death.

All of which leads me to a very simple conclusion. 

In Jewish life, there is a very specific realm and direction of behavior that warrants a person being unwelcome in the community. At the highest level, that of “karet,” the person’s sins need to be so grave, so beyond the pale, that the person might either die young at the hands of God (or in some instances, the hands of Beit Din), or the person’s soul is dealt with in the Heavenly Realm, by a divine creature – possibly God Himself – as opposed to His angel. 

There is no question that the “behaviors” described in this passage, Vayikra 18, are abhorrent or detestable to God in one way or another.

However, does committing these sins always warrant the person’s being judged by the community? Being ostracized by the community? What if a person doesn’t commit a sin at all, but doesn’t conform to a community’s standards?

I believe the Torah’s deliberate language choice is teaching us a dictum that was championed by Bruriah in the Talmud. Hate the sin, love the sinner. 

We don’t always have to agree with the things people do, or the way they choose to live their lives. But particularly when the choices people make are not criminal at all, and certainly not against the Torah’s rules, at most our right is to privately object, while publicly embracing the Jew.

Accepting the person while not condoning the behavior is an important distinction in Jewish communal living. The Torah gives us this instruction when it comes to facing the reality of our fellow Jews committing “Torah crimes” we might abhor or find detestable. At the very least, a similar standard should be held for those who look and live differently than we do, but who are nevertheless fellow Jews who have a different way.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Going Up In Holiness

Pesach

by Rabbi Avi Billet

The concept of going up in holiness is one which gains prominence around Chanukah, as we light candles each night adding one. But the opinion of Beit Shammai is that we start with eight and light one less each night. 

Does Beit Shammai not believe in the idea of rising in holiness? He argues that we are mimicking the bull sacrifices of the Temple when we light those candles.

The truth is that the concept of rising in holiness is relative. For example, we start the holiday of Pesach and then we have Chol Hamoed – which is certainly a less holy time period. When there is a Shabbat Chol hamoed, we don’t even acknowledge that it’s Pesach in the Haftorah. While we may, we are not obligated to eat matzah on the last days of the holiday (unlike our obligation to eat matzah on the first night of the holiday!). Those who are strict about not eating gebrokts are often lax about eating it on the last day of the holiday. That is certainly not going up in holiness. 

A tale is told in the Talmud (Brachot), after Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya was deposed as being Nasi, there was a debate whether he could continue to lecture in the Nasi slot. They opted not to deny him the Nasi teaching slot, but to only give him less frequent opportunities to teach. Why? Because he can’t be brought down from the holiness level he had achieved. 

The Talmud in Megillah discusses three options of how people can read the minimal numbers of Torah verses – usually 10 altogether. Do we break down the 3 aliyahs to be 4,3,3, or 3,4,3 or 3,3,4? According to the view that praises the last person who reads 4, the argument is made that we go up in holiness. 

But if that is a rule, then neither 4,3,3 or 3,4,3 should be an option! 

Perhaps the principle can be applied in this way: sometimes “going up in holiness” has repercussions when we’re dealing with an individual’s honor. Sometimes it is a support to a practice, but doesn’t define the practice. 

Sefirat Ha’Omer is a great example. There is nothing inherently more holy about any day of Sefirah over another. Every day of Sefirah is the same on a holiness level. 

And yet, as we know, we count Sefirah upwards. Obviously, because we are going up in holiness. 

How, if each day’s level of holiness is the same?

If “going up in holiness” is a principle which supports our halakhic practice, we need to understand how it shapes how we observe Sefirah. 

Rabbi Soloveichik had a unique explanation for why we count Sefirat Ha’Omer “up” instead of like a countdown. Citing the Ran, he said we count the Omer today to reenact the counting of days from leaving Egypt until receiving the Torah. The people were not told on which date they’d receive the Torah, because God does not always reveal all the details of the end-game. 

Just as we don’t know when the Messiah will come, and we count years upwards, the Jews had to count upwards to the receiving of the Torah because they did not know exactly when that would take place. When we reenact our ancestors countup to Matan Torah, we also count upwards as our forefathers did after they left Egypt. There is an element of uncertainty in the religious experience. 

The Ktav V’hakabalah notes that the word used to describe the 7 weeks from Pesach to Shavuot is “Temimot,” which more often means perfect or wholesome, and not Shleimot, which would specifically mean “complete” or “full.” He defines Temimot as complete in quality, while Shleimot is a completion in quantity. 7 weeks Temimos means you haven’t missed a day of the 49. 

Quoting Rabbi Chiya in the Midrash, He says that “7 Temimot weeks are in fact temimot when the Jewish people fulfill God’s will.” 

In the end we need to recognize that holiness is less about trimmings, but about what we can achieve when we use our time well. 

Rabbi Soloveichik talked about counting up because that is how we look forward to Sinai. 

Maybe each of us can take upon ourselves a personal learning project in preparation for Shavuot. That is one way to “go up in holiness.” 

Another way to go up in holiness is through doing less judging of our fellow man, and more “putting the other person up” than “putting another person down.” 

Through this we will not only enhance our relationships, but bring holiness into our day to day encounters.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Bitterness, Humility, Redemption - Keys to Experiencing Freedom with our Children

Shabbat HaGadol 

by Rabbi Avi Billet

On the topic of the 4 sons, the Kli Yakar has a lengthy comment in Parshat Bo, which can be summarized with the following questions – to which I’ll provide brief answers.

1. Why does the Haggadah use the formula of 4 sons, implying a number of qualities about each? Why not just assume a childlike innocence and curiosity?
Answer. Children are not cut from the same mold. Each needs to be addressed according to how he learns. This is one of the messages of the Mishna, “that according to the way of the child is how his father should teach him.”

2. Why does the Haggadah not remain consistent, assigning the proper answers to each child as per how the questions raised are raised in the Torah?
Answer. Because the Haggadah has a very different agenda than the Torah. The Torah assumes an air of innocence in the (each?) child The Haggadah says – sure that’s ideal. But the fact remains that kids might be very different. So I might switch things around a bit, pulling from one script to use in the next.

3. The Torah sometimes has the child asking “tomorrow,” while in while in one case he is told Bayom Hahu (“on that day”) or in one sitting. Why can’t they all be the same?
Answer. Children learn differently. Some need immediate conversations. Some learn better when they’ve had a chance to process what they’ve experienced.

4. If all of these dialogues are supposedly focused on the purpose of the Seder, why don’t the questions focus on Rabban Gamliel’s bottom line obligation - a full understanding of the rules of Pesach, Matzah and Marror? Why are the questions either generic, general, or void of any content?
Answer. Because the questions are all pointing at a context which is clear – based on experience. Assuming the parent and child have had a shared experience, the child need not say much more.

With all that being said, I think we can go one step further and ask a fifth multiple-part question.

5. Why does the Torah specifically utilize the parent/child imagery? Isn’t it true that most learning takes place with a teacher or a chavrusa? Isn’t it true that there’s a limited amount of time in which children turn to their parents with questions and that most information is actually sought from a different source than from parents?

Perhaps the parent-child imagery is utilized because that is where fundamentals are ingrained.

Whether one has an amazing K-12 Jewish education or one has no K-12 Jewish education to speak of, what puts most people on the trajectory to success in Jewish living is how well the fundamentals of our lifestyle are ingrained at home. Some kids come out of school with a lot of knowledge, some think they know everything, and some are very well aware of their limitations. But the most committed Jews either emerge from committed homes or come to observance on their own, based on important values instilled in them from their own upbringing.

The parent/child method of learning is one of discovery, seeing things for the first time – being curious, wanting to understand, asking questions, willing to learn, ready to be taught, having a genuine desire to know. And this, in the realm of our Torah knowledge and our never ending Jewish education, is something we should always be blessed to have.

Kli Yakar describes 3 stages of growth through his explanation of the dialogue with the Wise Son.

1. Avdut – bitterness of Marror – the removal of the “dirt”
2. Hachnaah – the humility which is represented by Matzah.
3. Cheirut – freedom as represented by the Pesach, which is personified through serving God

What is the dirt of which we must rid ourselves?

An important principle in Judaism is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, in order to do the first half of that, one must be at peace with oneself – otherwise how would we know how to treat the other?

There is no excuse for self-loathing, unless one has a detestable character. But the very simple antidote to that detestable character is to do good deeds. “The heart is steered by one’s deeds.” One who wants to be a good person need to simply do nice things for others. It’s just a matter of (self) training.

There is an arrogance we unknowingly exhibit. We so easily see flaws in others, and not our own flaws. R Elimelekh of Lizhensk famously prayed “That each of us should see the positive qualities of others and not their flaws.” Not respecting someone else’s having been created in Tzelem Elokim (in the image of God) is pretty shmutzy. Judging a person for making different life choices is unbecoming. Calling human beings names they don’t call themselves is obnoxious childhood behavior.

What is the humility we must achieve?

The Torah’s depiction of the questions ascribed by the Haggadah to the simple son and the wise son has their conversations taking place “tomorrow.” Humility in one sense means we must be ready to wait with our confrontations until the heated moment has passed. We must train ourselves to have a tremendous amount of patience. But there is no comparison between the response one has in the moment, when passions are heated and high, and when passions have cooled.

I recently saw a great piece of advice.

When you want to tell someone off, go to your computer, compose an email that says everything you want to say, read it twice to make sure you made every point articulately, and then delete it without sending it.

The Talmud in Megillah (28a) has many examples of rabbis who were asked how they merited to live a long life. Among them, Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah speaks of never viewing himself as better than anyone else. He forgave everyone every night before he went to sleep.

Rabbi Eliezer taught (Avot 2:10) “Let your friend’s honor be more beloved to you than your own honor.” This is not just a slogan. It is the theme of life. One should think, “I’m not a big deal. Whatever honor I think I deserve should be given by me to the other person. And that other person should ideally be thinking and living the same way. But it’s not about me. It’s never about me.”

The connection to freedom the Kli Yakar raised was channeled through an appreciation of the role God plays in our lives.

“I have God before me always.” “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.” “For me, closeness to God is good.” What do these verses from Psalms and Song of Songs mean?

We can love Him all we want. We can really get into our davening, and always behave in shul and be the most humble and the most efficacious, and the greatest Torah learners.

But the real way we get closest to Him is through imitating Him. “Just as He is merciful, you are to be merciful.”

The Talmud passage in Megillah mentioned above gives many examples of those who merited long life because of their tremendous qualities, character traits, and care for their fellow man. God blessed them with long life because they were humble, subservient, respectful, never took benefit from someone else’s downfall, or even delighted in someone else’s failure.

Pesach, Matzah and Marror are meant to teach us what kinds of behaviors we don’t want in our lives (Marror), what kinds of behaviors we do want (Matzah), and what kinds of behaviors we can train ourselves to have (Pesach) that allow us to be the most gratified Jews in the service of God, who earn honor and respect because we give honor and respect, and who modestly fulfill the verse from Micah “to walk humbly with your God.”

Monday, April 1, 2019

Renewal in HaChodesh and in Life

Parshat Tazria and HaChodesh

by Rabbi Avi Billet

This Shabbat will be Rosh Chodesh, and we will read Parshat HaChodesh, an uncommon opportunity when we take out three Torahs.

HaChodesh and this Rosh Chodesh are both a celebration of the same date in time and history – the first Rosh Chodesh given to the Jewish people in Egypt, at the dawn of the month we now call Nissan, the beginning of the Jewish calendar.

Owing to the confluence of every Rosh Chodesh with the New Moon, there is a relationship between the word “Chodesh” and “Chiddush” (renewal or new idea).

The Midrash Aggadah recounts a number of Chiddushim – new ideas – that came about through the advent of the first Rosh Chodesh. 

1. Of all nations since the dawn of time, God chose to love THIS nation, evidenced by giving us Rosh Chodesh.
2. Since the time of Creation, God owned time. He transmitted the power to own time to the Jewish people.
3. “This month is for you” – I could have given it to Adam, or any human beings. But I gave it to the humans that comprise My people – The Children of Israel at the time of the Exodus.
 4. It’s the head of all months, because in this month, you are redeemed.

Rabbenu Bechaye says about the sanctifying of the month and the sanctifying of the renewed moon: “One who stands and blesses the moon is giving testimony about the renewal (Chiddush) of the world, which is a fundamental concept of faith. He recognizes the existence of God, Who renews the moon each month.”

But perhaps the most profound idea of Chiddush can come from the Mechilta, who notes how there are similarities between months and years in how the moon determines the length of each. In the lunar calendar, a month is a little over 29 and a ½ days, which makes each month in the Jewish calendar 29 or 30 days. The year is usually 12 months, but owing to the need to always have Pesach in the spring, we sometimes need to add a month, making a leap year, and we do that at the end of the year, as we experienced this year with a second Adar.

And so the Mechilta says, “Just as a month gets the added day at the end of the month, so does a year have its addition at the end.”

Perhaps with a small leap, we can take the message of the Mechilta and apply it to its next logical step.

Every Shabbat we quote Tehillim (Psalms) 90: “The days of our lives are 70, and with increase, 80… It passes quickly and we fly away.” Two verses later we ask of God, “Teach the number of our days so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.”

Is it possible, based on this passage, that in line with “the extra of the month is at the end of the month, and the extra added to a year is at the end of the year,” that the extra added to a life is at the so-called end – meaning the latter part - of the average life?

We live in a marvelous time. Average life expectancy has gone from about 48-50 in 1900 to between 65-70 in the 1960s to over 80 in the 2010s – always a little longer for women than for men. Many people even make it to their 90s.

According to the verse from Tehillim 90 – it can be argued that anything after 70 is a gift. Perhaps we can call it a renewal. A Chiddush.

R Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his inimitable style, actually makes this point. “Your perception of the renewal of the moon should inspire you to undertake a similar renewal,” he writes. “The sanctification of the new moon is an institution for the moral and spiritual rejuvenation of Israel, to which Israel must always strive anew at regular periods, and which it will achieve through its re-encounter with God.” As the sages put it “This month is for you” is to serve as an example for you, to have a constant renewal. Re-energizing when the excitement of any activity or re-commitment ends, we find something new. We begin again.

When Daf Yomi finishes a tractate, they make a siyum and they go onto the next one.

When we finish reading a parsha Shabbat morning, by Mincha time we’re reading the next one.

We finish reading a Book of the Torah, we begin the next one right away.

On Simchas Torah, when we finish the Torah, we have another Torah in the wings, ready to begin with Bereshit.

When we read from multiple Torahs, we don’t remove the one we’re using until the next one is already on the table, ready to be used.

Before the month ends we bless the month that will be coming.

And when we have our renewal of life at 70, especially if the question hasn’t been asked yet, each person must ask the question of “how am I making the most of my add-ons?” In simple terms, it becomes a matter of perspective.

When Martin Luther King Jr was 39 he said "Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will." He was assassinated the next day.

Dov Gruner, one of the more famous Irgun fighters, who was executed by the British court in Palestine in 1947 at the age of 34, penned a similar thought in one of the letters he sent Menachem Begin when he was in prison awaiting his execution or the staying of it, "Of course I want to live. Who does not? But if I am sorry that I am about to 'finish' it is mainly because I did not manage to do enough.”

Perhaps we, no matter our age, can combine these two profound statements, of people who, in our own eyes, accomplished so much in so little time, and ask ourselves, “Are we doing enough in our efforts to do God’s will?”

Our parsha begins discussing birth - which is one kind of "renewal." It continues discussing the "renewal" that one who gets tzaraat must go through to rejoin society. Hopefully we can all be blessed with constant renewal in our lives, and may we always make the choice to be ever-growing and ever-renewing in our relationship with God.