By Cantor Linda R. Semi
I am writing this article a few days before Shabbat HaChodesh. Literally translated, Shabbat HaChodesh is the Sabbath of “The Month.”
In the maftir Torah portion that is read on Shabbat HaChodesh, we hear the commandment that the Jewish people should declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar. This reading further instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus with a sacrifice. It provides them advance information on the final plague that G-d will bring in the land of Egypt. Finally in the reading, G-d spells out the obligation to observe the Passover Festival for all time, including the requirement to clean one’s house of leavened products and to abstain from eating leavened products for the duration of the holiday.
The reading begins, “And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2). When G-d first commanded that the Israelites count the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was G-d’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.
The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land had been decimated. Almost all the livestock had perished and the people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, also were scared. They were becoming increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. The Israelite’s stress was compounded by Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites leave. Beginning a calendar process, however, underscored that they would have a future. It gave them hope of another life in another land where they would be free and allowed to have control over their time, action, and activities.
It is acceptable practice to strive to learn one new thing each year at the seder. Although the story never changes, we can always dig deeper to find some new meaning or subtle message in the text that, believe it or not, we had missed in all our prior readings of the Exodus. Like the hints that G-d gave the people prior to their departure from Egypt, there are clues in the story that can lead to some meaningful discussion and thoughtful interpretation of why certain events unfolded as they did. We need to take the time, as the reading instructs, to recount the tale as if we were personally experiencing the events. Try giving it meaning relevant to the time and place you currently occupy on this earth. Search, as we do for the hidden chametz before the start of the holiday or for the afikomen at the seder. Take ownership and make the experience your own. See that you have control over the significance the holiday can hold for you. Most of all, have a wonderful and meaningful Pesach. Recount the tale, sing the songs, and eat the yummy foods with gusto!
Enjoy it all. Wishing you and yours a wonderful and meaningful Pesach.