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.