D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero

The Jewish Relationship With Time

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This week’s portion discusses the sacrificial offerings brought on the holidays. Besides the more well known holidays such as Pesach, Sukkos, Shavuos, Rosh Hoshanah, and Yom Kippur, one other holiday is mentioned: Rosh Chodesh—new moons. On this day, as on the other holidays, an extra offering (a korban mussaf) is brought.      

What is the significance of the new moon?       

There are several ways of counting time. The two most common ways are the use of a solar calendar and the use of a lunar calendar. When using a solar calendar, the maintenance of the calendar is quite simple: the earth revolves around the sun in a cycle of 365 and a quarter days, thus necessitating an extra day (February 29th) to be added once every four years. A lunar calendar, however, is much more complex. The moon revolves around the earth in cycles of 29 or 30 days, 12 such months equaling 354 days. This is problematic, as by using this calendar the Jewish holidays would fall eleven days earlier every year. To eliminate this problem, once every two or three years the sages would add another month, a second Adar, to ensure the holidays would be in their proper time, i.e., Pesach in the spring, Sukkos in the fall, etc…    The obvious question is, why would G-d want us to use a calendar which entails so much upkeep; why not just go with a solar calendar, which basically takes care of itself.                                     

The determination of the new month worked as follows. The court would sit and wait for testimony on whether the new moon had been witnessed. If it was seen on the afternoon of the 29th, then the next day would be the new month. If it was not seen, then the month would have 30 days and the following day would automatically be the new month.

This process, although much more complicated than simply using a solar calendar, entails a certain responsibility—a requirement to interact with the calendar. This shows that we have the G-d given power to exercise our dominion over time.                                          

On the one hand, time can be a human being’s greatest enemy, manifesting itself as missed opportunities and wasted chances. On the other hand, the ability to control time, i.e., to use it wisely, is the greatest of all skills.  

For every commandment, behind the actual physical commandment lies a deeper spiritual obligation which is meant to be unearthed through the performance and learning of the commandment itself. The message here is that by controlling time, by keeping the Torah, the Jewish people are actually above time.        

 This is evident by the survival of the Jewish people. If we look at the other nations that were around when we became a nation, such as Ancient Egypt, Midian, Moav, to name but a few, we see they no longer exist. Yet the Jews’ active involvement in the Torah continues to this day, ensuring our survival.


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