The first mitzvah given to the Jews as a nation was that of sanctifying the
new month. This process of sanctifying the new month was a complicated one.
Only a Beis Din (Rabbinical Court) composed of judges who are directly linked
from student to teacher through their teachers to Moshe is permitted to
sanctify the month. Those who witnessed the new moon and come to the court to
reveal their knowledge have to endure a thorough examination by these judges.
The laws are complex and detailed. Why is this commandment so important?
The Sefer HaChinuch writes that if it were not for the fact that we assure
that the months of the year occur at their proper time, the calendar would be
in a constant state of flux. This would create many problems. We know that
Pesach is supposed to be in the spring, and Sukkos is to be in the autumn. If
the months were not carefully calculated, and an extra month were not added
when needed, the holidays would not occur in their proper time. Therefore, the
commandment that we sanctify each month properly carries with it great
significance for the rest of the year, and therefore is so important.
The Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:5) echoes this reasoning. He explains
that the sanctification of the new month is the foundation for all of the
holy days of the year. As we said, if not for the proper reckoning of the
months, all of the holidays would fall out in the improper season. We would
then not have the holidays, their holiness, and their accompanying
commandments, which would all amount to a huge loss to the fiber of the nation
of Israel. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the calendar and
of our "religion" so to speak, we were therefore given this commandment, of
sanctifying the new month, before any other commandment.
The Medrash, when speaking about this commandment, tells us that all who
bless the new month in its proper time, it is as if they have seen the
"P'nai HaSh'china," the Holy Countenance of G-d. The Medrash learns this from
a connection between the distinctive use of the word "this" in two places:
The commandment about the sanctification of the new moon - "This month is to
you...; The praise of G-d sung by the nation of Israel after the splitting of
the Red Sea - "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him...." The Ksav Sofer
explains why blessing the new month is analogous to "seeing" G-d. He explains
that there are those who deny the divine providence of G-d by saying that the
only time G-d had input into the workings of the world was when He created
the world. However, nowadays, the world is on "cruise control," that the
world continues to exist according to "nature," without any divine direction.
We believe that Hashem's providence is with us daily. We see the hand of
Hashem in all that we do and that happens to us. We should have this in mind
when we sanctify the new month. We should realize that when we bless the new
month, we are blessing Hashem because He is the one who causes the renewal of
each month in its proper time. When we make this blessing, we are
acknowledging that we believe in the divine providence of Hashem, that all is
under Hashem's control, and that He has control over every person at every
What event in history is the most striking proof of this, and makes it as
clear as day that G-d controls the world? We saw by the splitting of the Red
Sea how G-d clearly has control over the workings of the world, "nature." We
uttered by the Red Sea "This is my G-d..." as if we were pointing at G-d and
declaring that this is my G-d, who has control over my every action, who
allowed such a miraculous spectacle to occur."
It is therefore very fitting that G-d gave us the commandment of blessing
the new moon in the same month that the splitting of the sea occurred. "This
month is to you..." G-d said, telling us that "This month, when My divine
providence will be seen so clearly at the splitting of the sea, shall be to
you as a time when you will proclaim that you believe in My providence, and
so shall be the beginning of every month henceforth."
The meaning of the Medrash is now clearer. All who bless the new moon, and
therefore indicate that they believe in the providence of G-d, and stand
before Him always as if they were pointing and saying "This is my G-d!,"
because of the closeness of the relationship that then exists between G-d and
man, it is as if they have seen the holy countenance of G-d.