Parshas Vaera 5757 - 1997
Outline # 18
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
The Zohar in our parsha states: Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Chiya were walking on the way. Rabbi Yossi asked Rabbi Chiya to speak. At last Rabbi Chiya cried and said, "Sarah was barren... Woe for that time! Because Hagar gave birth to Yishmael, and Yishmael was circumcised before Yitzchak was born, the hour was ripe for Hagar to inherit her mistress...
"The angel appointed over Yishmael came before the Holy One. 'Shouldn't one who is circumcised have a share in Your Name?' he asked. 'Yes,' answered the Holy One. 'Yishmael has circumcision; why can't he share with Yitzchak?' 'This one fulfilled the mitzvah properly, while this one did not.' 'Nonetheless, shouldn't he have a portion?'
"Because of his circumcision, Yishmael will have a share in the Holy Land for many years. Just as his mitzvah is empty -- without completion -- so his hold in the Land will be at a time when the Land will be empty. He will prevent Yisroel from returning to his place until the merit of Yishmael is complete.
"In the future, the sons of Yishmael will stage wars, and the Europeans will gather against them... one will rule over the other, but the Holy Land will not be given over to the Europeans..."
In Ta'am V'da'as parshas Lech Lecha, Rav Moshe Sternbuch discusses the Zohar mentioned here. He explains: If the merit of Yishmael is his "bris," our merit will be to strengthen chastity and modesty -- which is the completion of the mitzvah of Bris Milah.
It is known that the Israelites avoided all of the immoral practices of the Egyptians, following the example of Yoseif (who avoided the ensnarement of his master's wife). In the merit of keeping the laws of family purity, the Israelites were saved from Egypt (Zohar).
The Wall Street Journal had an article this week regarding Islam's difficulties in establishing the new month before Ramadan can begin. Two witnesses are required to spot the new moon, but sightings vary from one locale to another. The Moslems are in dispute as to whether scientific information can be used in determining the calendar.
Obviously, the need for two witnesses is derived from the Torah. However, Judaism would never have the problems of contemporary Islam.
Although there is a common custom to announce the approximate time of the Molad (conjunction of the sun and the moon, when the moon would disappear from vision), this was meant to be the time when the Molad appears in Jerusalem. Except in emergency times, the moon must be sanctified in Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel) only.
As we have discussed, the Rabbis had an extremely precise calculation for the appearance of the moon. Yet, the Torah requires the court to announce the moon only after an elaborate "trial." Rebbenu Bachaye (Shmos [Exodus 12:2]) states clearly in his commentary that the main aspect of Kiddush Hachodesh (sanctification of the moon) is the calculation in the hands of the Rabbis, and that the Rabbis never had any doubts regarding the correct day of the new moon.
A proof of this assertion is in Mishnayos of Tractate Rosh Hashanah. In several cases, Rabbis showed the witnesses to be clearly invalid, yet Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin, accepted them. In one case Rabban Gamliel was so adamant regarding his matter, that he required his protagonist to publicly accede to his decision. For sure, the Head of Court had to assert his sole authority; but why did this authority need to be established in this particular subject?
Yes, it was specifically here, regarding the subject of Kiddush Hachodesh, that Rabban Gamliel had to act. It was here, specifically, that the entire underpinnings of the Torah She'ba'al Peh (the oral traditions) hung in the balance. Only the leading sages -- the heads of Sanhedrin (high court) had the direct transmission from Moshe himself.
Another proof, presented by Rabbenu Bachaye, is that Dovid Hamelech (King David) told Yonason "Tomorrow will be the new month." (Shmuel 1:20:5) How did he know that it would be the next day? Perhaps the moon would not be seen by witnesses? Not only this, but we see that they already kept two days of Rosh Chodesh at certain months, just as we do today. So it states: "On the next day, the second day of Rosh Chodesh..." (Shmuel 1:20:27) It is clear that Dovid knew the calculation, which was kept secretly by the leading sages from the days of Moshe.
Around the year 4118, or 358 C.E., Hillel the Second disbanded the High Court. The ancient rabbinical ordination, which had functioned in an unbroken chain from Moshe, stopped. Realizing that the Sanctification of the Moon would be impossible, Hillel the Second released the Sod Ha'ibur (the secret calendar calculations). From that time, the Jewish dating practice ceased using the visual sightings, and is based entirely on the calculations. The action of Hillel the Second is a lengthy discussion; according to Rabbenu Bachaye, however, it is understood: Hillel the Second removed the need for the court-case, and restored the calendar to its real basis -- the calculation handed down from Moshe.
It remains to be understood why the Torah commanded regarding witnesses. The mitzvah of Kidush Hachodesh is in next week's parsha, and our discussion will be continued then...
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.
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Last Revision: January 27, 1997