Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Bo - 5776

My friends,

This Parasha describes the last three plagues that were brought upon the Egyptians. The last plague (death of the first born) caused so much sorrow in every Egyptian's home that Pharaoh and his people not only fulfilled G-d's demand of "Let my People Go", but they forced the Jews to leave in a hurry.

Before the arrival of the Tenth Plague, the first Mitzvah given to the Children of Israel is to be found in this Parasha. Moses is told to command to the Israelites to designate the month of Nissan as Rosh Hodashim, the head of all months, meaning that the Children of Israel will now start a new year, a new calendar. This calendar, unlike the Egyptian calendar, will be of their own choosing, that will renew each month with the appearance of the moon - a Lunar Calendar.

In order to keep the Festivals in their proper season, the Jewish Calendar adds a 13th month every two or three years, to catch up with the Solar calendar. The question is why was it necessary to begin a new calendar and not keep the same one that was kept by the Egyptians. Some commentaries give the following reason:

The solar calendar symbolizes permanency - we know that the sun rises and sets everyday and keeps the seasons as they should be. Egypt will always be Egypt, They may win or be defeated by enemies, but there will always be Egypt, in some form or another. They are like the sun.

The Lunar calendar, however, comes and grows from day to day, and from the middle of the month it begins to get smaller and smaller until it disappears totally. Israel resembles the moon.

Before the Israelites were freed and stood to become a people, they were told to learn from the moon. Their future will be like the moon. They will rise and get bigger and brighter until they have a full moon. But there will also be periods of retrenchment, periods when our numbers will be diminished by our enemies. However, there is a promise that, no matter what, we will always rise and appear again.

Every month, when we bless the new month, we are reminded of this promise - that of Jewish renewal.

As we look at Jewish history, we see how accurate this metaphor has been. When one community was being oppressed and exiled, another community was rising and shining. While the Inquisition oppressed and exiled the Jews of Spain, a new Jewish community was being born in the Americas. While the European Jewish community was being decimated by the Nazis, a strong and viable Jewish community was growing in the U.S. and in Israel.

There is a message for our own life. "Hahodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Hodashim" - "This month for you, is the beginning of all months" - is a constant message for our individual lives. Do not feel stuck and frozen, There are always new opportunities.

It is a message of hope and comfort, knowing that the light will come back. The moon seems to disappear but it will come back. May you always have much light in your life.

Shabbat Shalom,