Happy Supernatural New Year!?
Rosh Chodesh Nisan
Our third Torah reading today (Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20) has to do with the fact that this Shabbat is also the fourth of four special Shabbats leading up to Pesach which are each given their own name and additional readings. Today is called Shabbat HaChodesh and the reading starts with the words Hachodesh hazeh, meaning “this month.” The reading relates G‑d’s words to Moshe and Aharon in Egypt sometime between the ninth and final plague of the Exodus. There we are instructed to set the Jewish calendar by the monthly new moon, and to regard Nissan as the “head of months.” G‑d also instructs us in this reading to bring the Pesach offering, to eat it with matzah and bitter herbs, and to abstain from chametz for seven days.
But wait. Aren’t we taught that Rosh Hashanah is the Rosh – Head – of Hashanah – the year? In Jewish thought, the natural world began with the autumn month of Tishrei . Even children are taught that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. It is the start of the agricultural year, when harvests come in and fields are plowed over for the next. Tishrei reflects the natural world, where the laws of physics and nature apply. Opposite Tishrei on the calendar, is the springtime month of Nissan. This is not just a month but it is haChodesh, “THE month.” Our sages connect the name Nissan with the Hebrew word Nissim, meaning miracles. Miracles are acts of divine purpose that contradict the patterns of the natural world. Nissan epitomizes renewal, change, and divine intervention in the created order. While Tishrei is the natural new year, Nissan is the supernatural new year.
From Exodus 12:12: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.”
Notice the repetition of the phrase “for you - Lachem.” This seems to be telling us that Tishrei is the dominant month for the nations who are limited and governed by natural laws and patterns, but “for you,” for Israel, your outcomes are the result of direct divine involvement.
As such, it is no surprise that the Exodus from Egypt, which involved repeated, miraculous suspension of the natural laws, occurred during the month of Nissan. So too, did the Resurrection of Messiah. Our sages likewise believe that the ultimate redemption will also occur in Nissan. This is partly why, during our Seders, we look for Elijah to herald the return of our Messiah.
So, Happy Supernatural New Year!