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Parashat Bo - 5775

My friends,

This Shabbat we read of the ongoing negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh regarding letting the people go into freedom. Pharaoh's heart is at times softened and he is willing to let them go, but then when the plague ends, he hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go. In this Parasha, the eighth (locusts) and ninth plagues (darkness) are brought upon the Egyptians and a warning is given about the last plague (the slaying of the first born).

In this Parasha we also find the commandment given to the children of Israel to begin a new calendar, making Nissan, the month of their liberation, to be the first month of the months, the beginning of a new year. In the Torah, therefore, the dates of other Jewish festivals like Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot are set as taking place on the seventh month of the year, even though that is the first month of the Hebrew calendar.

It would seem that whatever calendar the Israelites kept in Egypt - and most likely it was the solar calendar just like the Gregorian we keep today - they were to break away from what everyone else believed. Their new calendar was starting now, when they were a free nation. It also implies that there will be a new way of counting the months and the holidays, because their new calendar will always remind them of G-d's involvement in their liberation from slavery.

Today, most Jews follow the Gregorian calendar. The Hebrew calendar is hardly used except for knowing when the Jewish festivals will occur, picking a date for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or for keeping the Yahrzeit, the anniversary of the passing of a dear one. Does it really matter whether we remember and follow the Hebrew calendar? Is this 2015 or 5775?

Our tradition is that the Hebrew calendar begins with creation. According to Maimonides, 5775 are the years that have passed since the creation of the first human being as we know him/her today.

Our relationship to a calendar is more than just having a useful tool to mark time and special events. Our Hebrew calendar begins with Day One, from the day of creation, so that we are connected to that rich heritage as handed down to us by our ancestors - from Abraham to Moses, King David, our sages, etc., down to our own days - to remind us who we are and the importance of our heritage. The holidays we mark have all had an impact on who we are.

Do you know what today's Hebrew date is or your Hebrew birthday? It's easy go on line and look for a Hebrew calendar converter.

Shabbat Shalom,