Parshas Beshalach 5758 - '98
Outline Vol. 2, # 15
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Lessons of History
The future is intrinsically tied to the past. The Chasom Sofer explained:
The Mishnah states, "Who is wise? The one who sees hanolad."
It doesn't say "one who sees the future, " rather, "hanolad
" -- literally, "that which is born." This is inclusive
of the past -- which has been born -- and the future -- which is being
born. The wise person analyzes past experience, and brings evidence from
the past to weigh the possible future. (See Chasom Sofer Al Hatorah, p.
170, footnote 2, from Chidushei Chasom Sofer on Nedarim 30b.)
"News" Versus History
The Chazon Ish, discussing a different topic, incidentally touched on
a similar theme: People always want to say something new, and get attention.
However, the old can be examined and clarified; one can discern the difference
between truth and falsehood. Regarding "new" things, though,
it is very difficult to clarify. Truth and falsity become intermixed, and
cannot be discerned. The news that gets attention may be total fabrication
Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2 # 8
When Can You See the Moon?
Several people have written from Eretz Yisrael, asking why the moon
is not visible hours after the announced Molad.
The Molad is an average figure. It is not the astronomical Molad. The
lunar year is divided equally by twelve, and each of these twelve sections,
as it approaches, is announced as the coming Molad. The timing used for
the lunar year is extremely accurate, but for each month, the average molad
announced is only an approximation, and does not correspond exactly to
the actual conjunction of the sun and moon.
As we have mentioned, this calculation is ancient; many hold that it
was always the only basis for determining the calendar. The reason for
this system is quite clear: The new moon is not going to come at a convenient
time, like 12 a.m. or sundown. It will come in the middle of the day; but
months have to be made up of whole days. Therefore, there is no need to
determine the exact moment of the new moon, only to ascertain the probable
day that the new moon would appear.
Further, as we have been discussing recently, Rosh Hashanah may be pushed
off from the date of the Molad one to two days. The other months are then
calculated from Rosh Hashanah, of course. The result is that each month
of the entire year may be deliberately pushed away from the Molad.
Dovid and Yahonason (Shmuel [Samuel] 1:20)
Shaul Hamelech was King of a united Yisrael and Yehudah. Shaul had been
an exceptional tzaddik; it was due to his great humility and outstanding
qualities that he had been chosen to be king. However, he began to suffer
from mysterious seizures. At times, he became a different man. Dovid, whom
he had loved and admired, became a constant source of bitterness. He seemed
powerless against the stream of thought: Dovid is a rebel and must be killed!
The idea could not be brushed away, and became an obsession.
Dovid had faced the wrath of Shaul before; but when he mentioned it
to his devoted friend -- Shaul’s son -- Yahonason, he did not believe it.
They devised a test, in order for Yahonason to see Shaul’s true intention.
Dovid would hide. Tomorrow would be Rosh Chodesh. Since the Royal Family
always ate together on Rosh Chodesh, Dovid’s absence would be noticed (he
was Shaul’s son-in-law). By the second day, Shaul would surely grow suspicious.
If Shaul would show signs of excessive anger towards Dovid, his obsession
would be exposed.
On the first day, Shaul excused Dovid’s absence. Something exceptional
must have occurred. By the second day, however, Shaul began to query Yahonason,
who had a prepared excuse. Shaul became very angry, and mentioned his death
warrant for Dovid. When Yahonason questioned what Dovid had done to merit
the death-penalty, Shaul raised his spear in anger. Now, all was known.
Rosh Chodesh and the Dating System of Ancient Times
1. What was the significance of Rosh Chodesh and the following day?
The second day was called “Hachodesh hasheni.” The Targumim and several
commentaries, based on Talmud Yerushalmi, say that it referred to the second
day of Rosh Chodesh. The meaning would then be: The Royal Family ate together
on Rosh Chodesh. Sometimes, a person might be absent one day. To miss two
days of Rosh Chodesh from the King’s table, was unheard of.
2. How did Dovid and Yahonason know, in advance, which day would be
Rosh Chodesh? Still more strange -- how did they know that there would
be two days of Rosh Chodesh, in advance?
Rabbenu Bachaye brought this entire episode as evidence that the calendar
system in effect today has always been used, precisely as it is used today.
Thus, Dovid knew from the calculations exactly which days would be Rosh
A great deal of Tractate Rosh Hashanah deals with the court proceedings
used in the announcement of the new moon. Rabbenu Bachaye has a special
understanding of the procedure. It was only because of the heretics (the
Tzadukim and Baisusim), who denied the authenticity of the calculations,
that elaborate court proceedings were instituted. Witnesses who claimed
to have seen the new moon, were brought in. They were interrogated, and
their testimonies analyzed. However, when all was said and done, Rabban
Gamliel (head of Sanhedrin --the high court) would pick and choose between
Last year, we wrote (Vayeitzei 5757 -- ‘96, Outline #11):
--The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 25a) states that Rabban Gamliel had a tradition
from his grandfather that the new moon comes at 29 days, 12 hours and 793/1080
parts of an hour after the previous new moon. That equals 29.53059 days.
Rambam states that this is an average, not exact, estimation (so it is
clearly indicated in the Talmud, ibid.). The Arachim (Discovery) sefer
Nesivos el Hatorah, compares NASA's calculation today: 29.530588 days.
The difference between our ancient Rabbis' calculation, without the advantage
of instruments or computers, and NASA's, is several millionths of a day!
The similarly is so striking, that the discrepancy would only amount to
one day in 14,000 years...
Remember that this is the cycle for the average moon, so it is not exact
for any particular month. It means that the years will be accurately synchronized
with the lunar cycle, but not necessarily that each month will be completely
in line. The Rabbis needed it in order to reject those testimonies that
were obviously inaccurate.
We have discussed most of this in the past. Aaron Goldman has several
times requested further clarification regarding Dovid’s knowledge of Rosh
Chodesh, however; the resulting investigation has turned up numerous points
of debate regarding the above.
To be continued...