- Rabbi Isaac Roussel
The Holy Spirit & The New Moon
Our parsha this week is Bo, Exodus 10.1-13.16, where God visits the last three plagues upon Egypt. In the midst of this, God also gives His first mitzvah, His first commandment, to Israel. Surprisingly it's not about Passover but about establishing a calendar based on the moon!
In Exodus 12:1 God says “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” This statement indicates that the first month in the Jewish calendar is to be the month of Nissan; the month in which Passover occurs. Rosh Chodesh, which means New Month, is a minor festival with a few observances. We have an additional insert in the Amidah and we also recite an abbreviated Hallel. We also have a special reading about the sacrifices made at the New Month and there is a special Mussaf service added after Shacharit.
Rosh Chodesh is determined by the appearance of the New Moon. In ancient times it was determined by two witnesses testifying to the Sanhedrin that they saw the New Moon.
But why does Hashem give this mitzvah here and not after the Exodus at Mount Sinai along with the rest of the mitzvot? Sforno, a 15th century Torah commentator, said because up until that point the Jews were slaves. Slaves have no control of their time. Now they were being set free when they would have control of their time as free people. Rosh Chodesh is Hashem’s down payment, His promissory note, that they will indeed be set free. It’s not quite there but it is coming soon.
Before his death and resurrection, Yeshua promised us that we would be given a guide, “the Spirit of Truth”. Rav Shaul says in his second letter to the Corinthian congregation “it is God who sets both us and you in firm union with the Messiah; he has anointed us, put his seal on us, and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a down payment for the future.” The Greek word used here for down payment actually is derived from the Hebrew word Ay-ra-von, which is a word used in trade. It is the initial payment made in the promise of future full payments.
In other words, the Ruach HaKodesh is our Rosh Chodesh. As we have often discussed, that original Passover points foward to the Ultimate Passover at the end of time, where we will be freed from slavery to sin and death. Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, has been slain. We have placed his blood on the doorposts of our hearts, but we have not yet tasted that total salvation. We, along with Creation, groan in anticipation of it. The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment, His promissory note, that Redemption will indeed come, even if we cannot see it.
We are often called the People of the Book, but we are also the People of the Moon. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too do the fortunes of the Jewish people. Like the New Moon, there have been many times throughout our history where it looks very dark and hopeless, and then new light comes. And just as the Moon has no light of its own, we are called to reflect the light of Hashem’s Holy Torah into this dark world.
Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that “Chodesh” not only means month but also new. We are called not to wait until we are truly free to renew ourselves. Just as there is a cycle of month to month, we need to be constantly in a cycle of renewing ourselves in Teshuvah (repentance).
It will get darkest just before the Final Redemption. It will truly be a horrible time for the earth. But Messiah Yeshua will appear in the clouds as a conquering king and will fulfill that down payment.
In like manner, we experience darkness in our lives. It certainly is a very difficult time in world history with the pandemic and the political and cultural upheaval that we are experiencing. We each have our own personal challenges as well. In the midst of that suffering and uncertainty we must cling to Hashem and turn to His Comforter given to us. Circumstances can indeed look grim at times, but God is still in charge.
When we experience a New Moon, may we turn to the presence of the Rosh Chodesh in our hearts, and hear the voice of our Comforter and Guide.
May we trust that a Full Moon is coming.
May we renew our efforts to renew ourselves daily.
And may we pray daily, with that Promissary Note in our hands, for that final payment that will free us and all of Creation from slavery and darkness forever!