A Month To Remember1
At the beginnings of your months you shall bring an olah to Hashem: two
young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs in their first year – unblemished.
The very first mitzvah given to Bnei Yisrael as a whole concerned Rosh
Chodesh. It should not surprise us that this modest and understated event
takes on huge importance in this parshah. Rosh Chodesh is the centerpiece of
all the holiday korbanos. The pattern of animals included in the Rosh
Chodesh olah acts as a template for the special days of the calendar. There
are some changes on some of the days, but the numbers specified on all days
are based on the basic pattern in our pasuk.
You have to go no farther than the word “chodesh” to sense why Rosh Chodesh
ties in to all holidays. In English (and other languages), the word “month”
derives from “moon.” This makes sense; the twelve months essentially mark
twelve revolutions of the moon around the earth. But the word “chodesh” does
not call attention to the moon per se, as much as what a fresh revolution of
the moon signifies: renewal, a new beginning.
To many of the ancients, the world suffered from an essentially fixity. The
world, they believed, was eternally old, and its laws were immutable and
unchanging. Existence itself was a property of this universe, somehow woven
into its essential fabric. Human existence was not any different, not in the
larger sense of what life was all about, nor in the smaller sense, of what
an individual could do to change crucial aspects of his experience
The Torah completely rejects this idea. The world sprang into existence
through a beginning, by way of a Creation willed by G-d. He manufactured
newness, by creating something that had never been. Within Hashem’s bold
move lies the possibility of change, of starting things anew. That
possibility is accessible to Man. Man, the culmination of Creation, need not
be held prisoner by an unyielding and unforgiving order.
Man benefits from all the blessings G-d bestowed upon the world with him in
mind. Most importantly, though, Man is blessed through this capacity to
emulate Hashem’s creativity. Man is not stuck in a predetermined position.
Rather, he can free himself of all that we call evil, all the lesser forces
that keep him small and unaccomplished. He can strive to lift himself
upwards, towards a more G-d-like existence, shaped by ideals and morals
sourced in the Mind of G-d. Moreover, Man has many opportunities to do so.
Like the New Moon, when one is missed, the next is not so far off. Rosh
Chodesh beckons to Man to take advantage of the constant possibility of
change and renewal.
Each month, the olah of Rosh Chodesh reminds us of the form that our
striving higher should take. Three numbers figure in the olah formula, and
three different types of animal. The numbers one and two speak of an
important duality in Jewish life: the role of the individual, the one, and
the role of the plural, of two and beyond. The young bull is a work animal,
at the peak of its youthful strength; the ram is a lead animal. Putting this
together, we have a statement of principle of the Jewish collective,
represented here by the two young bulls. The core value of that community is
service. The Jewish nation is made strong by the willingness of all its
members to work, to toil with youthful energy and determination, to serve
Hashem’s interests and goals. When Jews fulfill that expectation, they
become the ram, the one to whom all else turns to for guidance. In its
fulfillment of its designated purpose, the Jewish people bccome a united
leader of men. They are the ones that teach the world how they, too, should
participate in the G-d given mandate for mankind: elevation through serving
Hashem alone. When this happens, all of human history becomes nothing more
than the seven sheep. Sheep are followers, trusting in a leader for
direction and guidance. Seven is the presence of the invisible One as the
point of reference for the tangible, visible six. The story of civilization
- at least once all become satisfied that they need to dutifully follow the
dictates of our Creator - becomes the discovery of Hashem’s presence within
everything – animating everything, sustaining everything, guiding everything.
This credo for Israel – and in time, for all of mankind – was available to
us on the threshold of our becoming a nation, already implicit within the
Rosh Chodesh mitzvah that would be fleshed out later in its specific avodah
in the Mishkan. Whenever Klal Yisrael relives an important milestone of its
past by observing a Yom Tov, the Torah builds on this credo. Looking at its
freedom, or its receiving of the Torah, or its miraculous protection through
the years in the Wilderness, Klal Yisrael incorporates the Rosh Chodesh
paradigm into its avodah. It recognized that those great events occurred for
a reason. They represent Hashem’s investment in us. The return on that
investment is living by the ethos of these korbanos, and becoming living
examples of what they symbolically express.
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bamidbar 28:11-14; Vayikra 23:18