This Shabbos has a special maftir, describing the commands given
on Rosh Chodesh Nisan in Egypt. The haftora describes future events that
will take place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Parshas Hachodesh, as this Shabbos
is called, occurs this year on the actual day of Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
The regular parshiyos being read at this time also deal with Rosh
Chodesh Nisan -- in the desert, during the second year. Last week, at the
conclusion of Sefer Shmos (Exodus), the first day of the first month
was mentioned as the day on which the Mishkan was set up. It is a dispute
if this refers to the very first time the Mishkan was set up, or the final
time it was set up -- after the training of the Kohanim and Levi’im regarding
its proper usage. According to the latter explanation, the beginning of
Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) -- this week’s parsha -- also deals with
Rosh Chodesh Nisan. (See Ibn Ezra and Ramban at length.)
Abarvanel: The Importance of Rosh Chodesh Nisan
The Abarvanel, in Parshas Bo, explained concepts of Kiddush Hachodesh
(Sanctification of the Moon). Like Rebbenu Bachya, whom we have quoted
many times, Abarvanel held that Kiddush Hachodesh was in no way dependent
on witnesses; rather, the calculation of the Rabbis determined in advance
when Rosh Chodesh would occur.
Abarvanel asked: Since the year is a constant cycle, just
as circles have no beginning or end, the calendar should have no beginning
or end. Moreover, the Jewish Calendar is supposed to have two beginnings
-- Rosh Hashanah and Rosh Chodesh Nisan. What sense is there in having
the year begin at one time, and the months begin at another time?
It is a convention among the various peoples of the Earth, that the
calendar should commence at a time corresponding to the Beginning of Time,
that is, Creation. Nonetheless, occurrences of special importance have
their own commemoration. Rosh Hashanah corresponds to the Creation; Rosh
Chodesh Nisan corresponds to the deliverance, isolation, and exaltation
of the Jewish People.
(The taking of the lamb, in preparation for the Pesach sacrifice,
was an essential aspect of Nisan. Many Jews were involved with worshipping
the lamb, the Egyptian Deity. The Jews were commanded to take the lamb
for a sacrifice to Hashem at the time of the ascendance of the constellation
of the Ram. This would demonstrate the elevation of the Jews beyond the
forces of the stars and the idolatries. [Abarvanel and Ramban])
The Mitzva of Kiddush Hachodesh (Sanctification of the Moon), explained
the Abarvanel, has nothing to do with witnesses sighting the moon,
because the calendar is based only on the calculation. Rather, the mitzva
is to declare that Nisan, at the time of spring, has primary importance
among the months.
Witnesses and the Sacrifice
It appears difficult to reconcile the opinion of Abarvanel
and Rebbenu Bachya with the subject discussed last week. We saw
how the declaration of Rosh Chodesh in ancient days seemed completely dependent
on the arrival of witnesses: The Levi’im erred in the recital of the song,
because the witnesses arrived at such a late hour.
Magid Harakiah answers this question. The witnesses were required
for the sacrifice, but not for the actual observance of Rosh Chodesh.
Even though the Halacha is not in accordance with this view, but
states that the month is declared via witnesses, there is little difference.
There are various mechanisms by which the Rabbis could manipulate the calendar,
so that, anyway, it would correspond to the calculation.
Retroactive Sanctification and the Two Days of Rosh Hashanah
Rambam’s view is that the month could be sanctified retroactively.
If witnesses arrived days late, the court could sanctify the month going
back to the day the witnesses reported having seen the moon.
As discussed last week, the Rabbis decreed that if the witnesses
did not appear by the afternoon Tamid, the court would close for the day.
Both that day and the next would be sanctified as Rosh Hashanah. Ramban
explains that the main sacrifices would be brought the second day. If so,
the Rambam’s own statement is difficult to follow: If witnesses arrived
even days late, the month could be sanctified retroactively, going back
to the day the witnesses spotted the moon. That would be the first day.
Why is the sacrifice brought on the second day, if, retroactively, the
first day is sanctified?
In tractate Menachos, Rashi indicated that the calendar date would
be calculated from the first day. Later commentaries associated this statement
with the Rambam -- the month is sanctified retroactively (Tzafnas Paneach,
Minchas Chinuch, Moadim Uzmanim, Magid Harakiah. [The
Brisker Rav, in his commentary to the Torah, independently showed that
Rashi agreed with Rambam.])
These commentaries are of the opinion that the Talmud’s statement:
"Both that day and the next would be sanctified" -- is taken
quite seriously. Each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah have special significance:
The first day would initiate the calendar date; on the second day, the
special sacrifices would be brought for Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156