Hachodesh hazeh lachem (12:2)
Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and making Nisan the first month of the Jewish year, the Chiddushei HaRim, zt”l, suggests that it can also be interpreted to read that Hashem was giving the Jews the ability to create newness and freshness (hischadshus).
While it is true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and effecting lasting change seems impossible, this is only the case for those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse tells us (Koheles 1:9), “What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
Although there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal beyond the sun, in front of Hashem, Who is the Source for the constant re-creation of the universe every moment. We therefore find that the Lechem Hapanim (Showbread) in the Beis Hamikdash miraculously stayed completely fresh for seven days. Because it was placed before Hashem in the Temple, it was exempt from the laws of nature which “require” it to become old and stale.
Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a collective nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We can take inspiration from the uplifting recognition that while many people repeat the same “New Year’s resolutions” every year, we aren’t bound by the past. As long as we recognize that we don’t live under the sun but rather in front of Hashem, and conduct our lives accordingly, we may move our lives in any direction that we desire, as the invaluable power of renewal is uniquely ours.
The concept that as Jews we aren’t bound by the laws of nature is illustrated by the following story. A friend of mine got married later in life and had a difficult time having children. After some time passed, he and his wife decided to seek medical advice. A number of tests and consultations with fertility specialists later, their hopes were dashed when they were told that they were medically incapable of conceiving children. However, many years of heartfelt prayer later, to the astonishment of the “experts,” the couple’s two adorable sons are happy to prove otherwise!
This anecdote shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the very existence of our nation is predicated on similar miracles. Most of our Avos and Imahos — Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Yaakov and Rochel — struggled to have children. Our Sages teach that a number of them were physically barren and incapable of producing the next generation of the Jewish people without miraculous Divine intervention.
Whether we are in need of a medical miracle or merely hoping to finally break a persistent bad habit once and for all, we should take heart from the message of Parashas Bo. With the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Rather than give in to despair rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature, we can remain optimistic by reminding ourselves of the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change.
Parashah Q & A
Q: During the plague of darkness, a humbled Pharaoh called to Moshe (10:24) and offered to allow the Jews to travel to the desert to bring offerings to Hashem. As Rashi writes (10:22) that during the final three days of the plague, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were unable to move, how was Pharaoh able to call Moshe during the darkness?
Q: The Zohar Hakadosh teaches (Vol. 2, 38a) that on the night of the Exodus, a tremendous light shone which was as bright as the day. If it never became dark and the day of 14 Nisan never ended, how were they able to fulfill the requirement (12:8) of eating the Pesach-offering on the night of 15 Nisan?
A: The Mahari Bruna maintains that the plague of darkness consisted of a three-day period during which the Egyptians were unable to see, followed by a three-day period when the darkness was so thick that it prevented them from moving, followed by one additional day during which the plague reverted back to its original form and the Egyptians were once again able to move, and it was on this seventh day that Pharaoh called Moshe. However, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 14:3) seems to indicate that the plague of darkness lasted only six days, which is also the opinion of Rashi (10:22). The Moshav Z’keinim writes that Pharaoh called Moshe during the first three days of the plague, when he was still able to move.
A: The Mirkeves Hamishneh answers that the first half of the night, when the Jewish people ate the Pesach offering, was dark as usual and was considered the night of 15 Nisan. Only during the second half of the night, after the first-born Egyptians had been killed, did the night light up as if it was day. Alternatively, he notes that the Targum Yonason ben Uziel (19:4) writes that on the night of the Exodus, Hashem brought the Jewish people to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem to offer and eat their Pesach-sacrifices, and returned them to Egypt later that night. Because the special light only shone in Egypt but not in Eretz Yisrael, it was considered the night of 15 Nisan when they ate the korban Pesach in Jerusalem.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.