“And this month will be for you the beginning of the months.” (Shemot 12:2)
Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon and of making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, known as the Chiddushei HaRim (1798-1866), suggests that it can also be interpreted to read that G-d was giving the Jews the ability to create newness and freshness (התחדשות).
While it is true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and that lasting change seems impossible to achieve, this is only true for those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse tells us (Kohelet 1:9), “What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
However, while there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal beyond the sun, in front of G-d, Who is re-creating the universe every moment. We therefore find that the Lechem HaPanim (the Show-bread) in the Temple miraculously stayed completely fresh for seven days. Because it was placed before G-d in the Temple, it was exempt from the laws of nature which “require” it to become old and stale.
Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We can take inspiration from the uplifting recognition that we aren’t bound by the past. As long as we recognize that we don’t live under the sun but rather in front of G-d – and conduct our lives accordingly – we may move our lives in any direction that we desire. The invaluable power of renewal is uniquely ours!
This idea is proven to us daily in the countless stories of miracles we hear. A friend of mine got married later in life and had a difficult time having children. After some time passed, he and his wife decided to seek medical advice. A number of tests and consultations with fertility specialists later, their hopes were dashed when they were told that they were medically incapable of conceiving children. After many years of heartfelt prayer, to the astonishment of the “experts,” the couple’s two adorable sons are happy to prove otherwise!
This anecdote shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the very existence of the Jewish nation is predicated on similar miracles. Most of our Patriarchs – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel – struggled to have children. Our Sages teach that a number of them were physically barren and incapable of producing the next generation of the Jewish people without miraculous Divine intervention.
Whether we are in need of a medical miracle or merely hoping to finally break a persistent bad habit once and for all, we should take heart from the message of Parshat Bo. With the first mitzvah that G-d gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Rather than give in to despair rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature, we can be hopeful by reminding ourselves of the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change.
By: Rabbi Ozer Alport