Harnessing the Moon

Parshas Bo

Rosh Chodesh – the sanctification of the new month – is the very first Mitzvah the Jewish people received as a Nation. Here is a basic outline of how the new month is established: When the smallest manifestation of the new moon is visible to the naked eye, two witness approach the Supreme Court to testify that they have seen the new moon. The Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin pronounces “Mekudash”,  which ushers in the new month.

Question One

Hashem told Moshe the precise amount of time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth (29 days 12 hours 44 minutes and 3 and ⅓ seconds) with which we can compute the “Molad“. Considering this, why then do we rely on human agency to determine the months? Doesn’t this open the field for sabotage or mistake?

Question Two

This law was the first edict given to our people. It was also this specific precept which the Syrian-Greeks attempted to abolish during the Hellenist epoch. What is the significance of this commandment?

Answer

Let us attempt to resolve these issues by dwelling on another point, the context of this Mitzvah. Why is this commandment  placed here, as an interruption between the warning about the impending Death of the Firstborn, and the execution of this plague?

Makas Bechoros was executed with celestial exactitude. Hashem timed the affliction to be precisely at midnight to the split second. That level of accuracy is only available to Hashem. However, the performance of mitzvos are designed with human inefficiency factored in. We are only people, and are expected to act according to mortal capabilities. There is absolutely nothing wrong, for example, in eating a bug that is not visible at all to the unaided human eye.

Rosh Chodesh teaches us this idea. Moshe was informed of the moon’s orbit to aid in computation, yet the consecration of the month took place based on human input, because Mitzvos are for humans to do. Morover the Talmud teaches us that when it comes to Rosh Chodesh even a month sanctified through error is still valid, expanding this concept that we can function with our inadequacies.

We may further suggest that it is for this reason that that Kiddush Hachodesh is the first national Mitzva. For this concept that Mitzvos are built along human lines sets the tone for the numerous subsequent commandments.

Lesson

Mitzvohs are for people not angels.

Story

Rabbi Meshulam Zusha of Anipoli (1718 – 1800) was popularly known as Reb Zusha.
He was one of the early Chasidic masters and was the younger brother of the famous Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, the Noam Elimelech. In his final years he suffered from a drawn out illness, but he never complained. “Whatever comes from God is good,” he would say. His final resting place of this beloved is beside the grave of his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch.

When Reb Zusha was laying on his deathbed surrounded by his disciples, he was crying and no one could comfort him. One student asked his Rebbe,”Why do you cry?” Reb Zusha answered,”When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal they won’t ask me,“Zusha,why weren’t you as wise as Moshe or as kind as Avraham, they know my inadequacies and that is not expected of me. Rather, they will ask me ‘Zusha,there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming: Zusha. Why weren’t you Zusha’?” Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine?”

Weekly Halachah

If one forgot “Rezei” or “Yaala Veyovo” of Bircas Hamazon, and remembered before begining “Hatov Vehamaitiv” a special blessing is recited instead. (It can be found in most comprehensive Siddurim).

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