The Essence of Rosh Chodesh
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
(Written by R. Avi Chermon based on a sicha given 23 Adar II 5760.)
Rosh Chodesh is a unique holiday. The Torah tells us the significance of Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot. However, nothing is written about the significance of Rosh Chodesh in the Torah. The Torah only mentions the additinal sacrifices that are brought on it.
The first time we find festive aspects of Rosh Chodesh is in Sefer Shmuel: David said to Yehonatan, "Behold, tomorrow is the New Moon, when I would usually sit with the king to eat." (Shmuel I 20:5) In Melachim we find a similar idea when the Shunamite woman is asked, "Why are you going to see him, it is not [Rosh] Chodesh or Shabbat." (Melachim II 4:23) What is the significance of feasting on Rosh Chodesh, and why is it not mentioned in the Chumash?
This Shabbat we will read Parshat Hachodesh, which contains the first mitzvah that Yisrael were commanded, "Hachodesh hazeh lachem Rosh Chodashim" - "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months." (Shemot 12:1) The fact that this mitzvah was given to Yisrael before any other mitzvah indicates that it is extremely important. Rashi in Breishit even asks why the Torah began with Sefer Breishit rather than with the first mitzvah of "Hachodesh hazeh." Why is Rosh Chodesh so important?
We will discuss one aspect of Rosh Chodesh. Sin and atonement seems to be a recurring theme of Rosh Chodesh. In Musaf we mention, "Zman kapara lechol toldotam" - "A time of atonement for all their succession." On a simple level, "toldotam" refers to the subsequent days of the month; Rosh Chodesh gives us atonement for all of the days of that month. R. Tzadok explains the tefilla on a deeper level. The word "toldotam" means descendants. We are asking for atonement for all of the descendants of Adam Harishon, because we were all affected by his sin. We know that Rosh Hashana is a day of kapara for the sin of Adam, for it is the day which Adam sinned and was forgiven. Just as Rosh Hashana is the first day of the solar cycle, so too Rosh Chodesh is the first day of the lunar cycle. On Rosh Hashana we do not bring the sacrifice of Rosh Chodesh. The Gemara in Eruvin explains that one korban is sufficient for Rosh Hashana and for Rosh Chodesh. Rav Tzadok explains that both korbanot come to atone for the same sin, the sin of Adam Harishon. (Pri Tzadik Breishit, Rosh Chodesh Kislev)
In the Musaf we continue "U'teshuat nafsham miyad sonei" - "Saving their soul from the hand of the enemy." Who is this enemy? R. Tzadok explains that this refers to the yetzer hara. Shlomo Hamelech, says the Gemara, called the yetzer hara, "sonei."
Why do we mention Shlomo Hamelech's name for the yetzer hara? From the time of Avraham to the time of the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, there were thirty generations, which correspond to the thirty days of the lunar cycle. After thirty generations, darkness came and the Temple was destroyed. The Zohar says that the moon was full in the fifteenth generation, in the time of Shlomo Hamelech. Klal Yisrael had reached their zenith, and corrected what they were meant to correct. But there was still a yetzer hara. When Shlomo was born, the pasuk says, "V'Hashem aeivo" - "Hashem loved him." The Gemara says, however, that when Shlomo married Pharaoh's daughter, Rome was founded, which became the source of the spreading of Christianity. Shlomo called the yetzer hara sonei because it caused the sin which took away the love. That is why we mention the sonei in the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh.
There is another sin which is connected to Rosh Chodesh. The Tur (O.C. 407) quotes from the Yerushalmi that there are women who do not do melacha on Rosh Chodesh. Pirkei D'Rabbi Elazar explains, that women celebrate on Rosh Chodesh because they did not donate their jewelry when the men were worshipping the golden calf. What is the connection between not participating in the sin of the golden calf and not do melacha on Rosh Chodesh?
In addition, the Midrash discusses the sin of the moon, in connection to Rosh Chodesh. Hashem had created the moon and the sun the same size, but the moon claimed, "Two kings cannot wear the same crown." Hashem then said to the moon, "Go and decrease your size." (Chullin 60b)
Upon examination, one sees that all of these sins which are connected to Rosh Chodesh have one common source. On the pasuk in Yechezkel (1:1), "Va'ani b'toch Hagolah" - "I was amidst the exile," Rav Kook comments in Orot Hakodesh (Musar Hakodesh p. 140) that all of the sins throughout the history of Yisrael stem from the fact that we have lost our "ani," our individuality. Our "ani" went into exile. When Hashem asked Adam, "Where are you?" Adam did not know how to answer. Where is your Ani? Adam, why did you lose your self? Why are you placing blame on others? Where is your self? He could not answer, because he had lost his self to external causes. He had forgotten his inner drive to serve Hashem and obeyed external desires. Similarly, at the sin of the golden calf, Yisrael rejected their own unique individuality and chose to worship foreign gods.
During the creation, the land also sinned. Chazal say that the land was meant to make trees and fruit which have the same taste as the fruit. The land failed and only the fruits have taste, not trees. What is the nature of this sin? The tree is a means to the end, the fruit. The purpose of the existence of the tree is to bring about fruit. But without a tree there would be no fruit. There are some people whose role is comparable to a "means to an end." Like a tree, they are meant to help the fruit and to ensure the existence of the fruit. Sometimes, these "trees" do not recognize the significance of their role, and they find their role tasteless. They suggest that their role is not significant unless they, too, are fruit. This is a mistaken approach. The trees, which are the means should feel as significant and tasty as the fruits, which are the ends. If someone does not accept his role and finds taste only in the fruit, and does not find importance in his own role, he sins and does not fulfill what Hashem wants. He loses his individual self and tries to be something which he is not.
The moon was not happy with its role. It wanted a more significant role, like the sun, so it complained. This sin exists fundamentally in the entire creation. Every one of us longs to be something which we are not. We avoid following our "ani" and we look around and try to be someone else. Teachers commonly treat every student exactly the same, thereby avoiding to see the individuality in the students. This approach to education causes the students to lose their "ani."
A nation can not be built on this loss of individuality. In order for a nation to function successfully, every individual, and the nation as a whole, must remain faithful to their individuality.
What is the difference between a slave and a free person? Rav Kook writes in his Haggadah that the difference between a slave and a free person is not the fact that one is in a position of subservience and the other is not. It is possible to be a slave who has a free spirit or a free person who is enslaved. A person may be enslaved to his desires, to societal norms, or to foreign cultures. If one is told not to smoke and knows that smoking is unhealthy, but is unable to control his desire, he is enslaved to his desires. Conversely, sometimes a slave or a prisoner will have a free spirit, and will never give in to what he does not want to do.
During the cold war, when the famous refusenik Anatoli Sharansky was being freed from Russia, he ran across the border in a zigzag way. When asked why he did not run directly across the border he replied that the Russian officer told him to run fast and straight, so he ran slowly and zigzag. The Russians were unable to take away his free spirit. Sometimes people may be wealthy and powerful, but before doing any action, they think, "What will people say?" They are truly enslaved to other members of society.
What is true freedom? The trait of a person or nation to live according to his inner truth. To be faithful to the Tzelem Elokim (Divine Image) which exists within him. Someone who is a slave does not consider his inner truth, but rather only considers what others think or feel. This type of existence is worth very little. When Bnei Yisrael receive the Torah, this is their inner truth. This is their freedom.
Chametz and matza represent this idea. The Sefat Emet writes that the main point of the redemption from Egypt was to reveal that the essence of Bnei Yisrael is to be servants of Hashem. Every one us is connected to Hashem. To show this we eat matza. The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem 51) writes that the essence of the bread is only bread and water. Sometimes we want to enhance and add to the bread, so we add yeast, sugar and other ingredients. In order to stress this idea that the essence of Yisrael was revealed on Pesach, we get rid of all of the extra ingredients. The Sefat Emet continues that on Pesach, every member of Yisrael is reborn. Why do we eat "lechem oni" (bread of affliction) if we are representing becoming free? We are showing that the essence of our soul is connected to Hashem. Man must take this essence and preserve it, as it says, "u'shmartem et hamatzot" - "You shall safeguard the matzot." (Shemot 12:17)
Every sin comes from forgetting our inner essence. The Torah refers to the engraved writing on the Luchot (Tablets) as "charut." The Midrash says that one should read this word as "cheirut," meaning freedom. The word cheirut, however, does not exist in the Torah. How did Chazal connect charut and cheirut? There is an important difference between writing with ink and engraving. One can erase ink from paper, but if something is engraved, it is impossible to remove it. The writing and the tablet are one. The Torah is our essence. The Torah is the writing and we are the Luchot. It is impossible for us to remove the Torah from us. If someone acts according to this engraved essence which is charut, engraved, he will get cheirut, and become free. If one forgets and does not act according to his essence, he will become a slave.
At Matan Torah, the Torah was united with Yisrael. This freedom should have been seen at Matan Torah and the complete tikun should have occurred. However, Yisrael worshipped the calf and were unable to be completely true to their inner essence. In the future, this sin will be corrected, and we will become free of the yetzer hara. This tikun will come about through the restoration of the moon. Time in Judaism is circular. Any point which occurred in history, affects the future. On the 15th of Nisan, we went out of Egypt, so it affected every 15th of Nisan throughout history. Not only does the date affect the future, but it also affects the past. The 15th of Nisan was even significant before leaving Egypt, as we see that many years before even entering Egypt, Lot celebrated Pesach and ate matzot.
Rosh Chodesh is a festival of the future. It represents the fact that the moon will be restored in the future, and we will live according to our inner truth. That is why the Navi Yeshayahu (66:23) says, "It shall be at every New Moon and on every Shabbat all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem." In the future it will be a chag, and we celebrate it now, just as Lot celebrated Pesach before it occurred in history. As we approach the tikun, we appreciate the festive aspects of Rosh Chodesh more and more. That is why there is no mention of Rosh Chodesh in the Torah. Only later in history, as the tikun nears, do we find a mention of the festival when David comes to the stage. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (25a) says that when Romans decreed that Yisrael should not perform Kiddush Hachodesh, the Tanaim used the code phrase, "David Melech Yisrael chai vekayam" - "David, King of Israel, is alive and endures!" There is strong connection between Malchut Beit David and the renewing of the moon. Without Malchut Beit David, the tikun of the moon cannot occur. If not for the sin of the golden calf, the tikun would have happenned at Sinai. But since we sinned, Rosh Chodesh is not yet a real festival in which we are prohibited from working. However, the women did not sin, so the Yerushalmi says that women do not do melacha. They merit to experience the chag today.
Why was Rosh Chodesh the first mitzvah that we were commanded? Because the history of Yisrael started and will end with the renewing of the new moon, "It shall be at every New Moon and on every Shabbat all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem." Parshat Hachodesh begins with Rosh Chodesh, and ends with lechem oni and guarding the matzot, because the way to fix the sins of the golden calf, of Adam, and of the land is through guarding the matzot, and stressing our pure, true essence.
The Gemara in Shavuot (9a) writes that we bring a he-goat as a sin offering on Rosh Chodesh because Hashem says, "Bring atonement for me because I decreased the size of the moon." Why are we bringing atonement for Hashem? The moon sinned! How did Hashem sin?
Rav Kook writes in Igrot (p.108), that one cannot understand this Gemara literally. We must understand it in a different way. There is a concept that sometimes Hashem puts us into a situation where we sin in order to further his goals. Hashem causes us to sin, and we are punished for it. For example, the Midrash Tanchuma in Vayeshev comments on the pasuk, "and Yosef was brought down to Egypt," that Hashem brings upon us certain events through deceiving ways. The Midrash brings a parable. Once, a man wanted to divorce his wife, so he wrote a Get and put it in his pocket. He came into his house and asked his wife for a cup of tea. He said to his wife, "This tea is cold. Take this Get!" Hashem also acts this way. He has an agenda, and fulfills it based on our actions. Hashem wanted to fulfill the prophecy that Yisrael would go to Egypt, and he did it through the brothers' sale of Yosef. Similarly, Hashem wanted to bring death to the world, as it says in the Torah, which was written before the world was created, "if a man dies in a tent." Hashem brought death to the world and made it seem as if it was a punishment for the sin of Adam Harishon.
What about free will? It seems that Hashem took away free will in order to achieve his agenda? The Netziv writes that this is a topic about which we can not understand the answer.
Why did Hashem create a world with the possibility for sin? The Ramchal writes in Derech Hashem (2:2), "Hashem's wisdom decreed that in order for the good to be complete, He wanted the one who benefits to be the master of his good. One must acquire the good on his own, not through an external means." This is what the Zohar refers to as "nahama d'kisufa," the bread of embarassment. Man does not appreciate his bread if it is given to him as a present. He must work for his bread. The true reward comes from work.
Hashem created a world which requires destruction and fixing so that B'nei Yisrael and mankind could be rewarded. Rav Kook writes in Orot Hakodesh:
There is kedusha (sanctity) that builds and kedusha that destroys. Everyone sees the kedusha that builds ... but the kedusha that destroys is hidden. Its benefit is hidden; it destroys in order to build something greater than that which was previously built. One who is able to comprehend the kedusha which destroys -- according to the degree of his perception is the degree of his "tikun" (improvement). From the kedusha that destroys comes great people who bring blessing to the world. This is the level of Moshe who destroyed the "Luchot" (Tablets). Moshe was able to destroy the Luchot, and bring about the birth of Torah Shebeal Peh. Sometimes we must destroy in order for us to build. If one fears sin, he can be passive all day and be like a rock. He will not sin, but he will also do no mitzvot. But a man can not stay still. Man must feel that he is accomplishing something in this world. Man must live in a structure that he builds for himself, unlike a rock.
Kedusha Hamacharevet is the basis of these sins: the Luchot, Adam, the moon, and the land. Hashem wanted these sins to occur so that we could fix. Hashem wanted us to receive the reward when we merit to correct these sins.
Man exists in the planes of space and time. The sin of the moon represents time, and the sin of the land represents space. The cycles of the moon represents the entire process of breaking and fixing. At the end of the month, the moon seems so dark and small, but soon it becomes bigger and brighter. The moon teaches that the basis of the world is breaking and fixing.
Hashem says, "Bring atonement for me because I made the moon smaller." Hashem asks for an atonement because He created a world which has a possibility for sin and crisis. Atonement means completion. Hashem asks us to bring a kapara and thereby correct was is wrong with the creation. The world is in our hands to fix.
Soon we will come to a time when Rosh Chodesh is a true chag, as we mention when we say Kiddush Levana:
May it be your will, Hashem, to fill in the lack of the moon so that it will no longer be small, and the light of the moon should be like the light of the sun, and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was decreased, as it says, "the two great illuminating bodies." And the prophecy should be fulfilled with us, "They will desire their G-d, and David their king." Amen!
Shiur ID: 4007