Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bo 76 - Being a Master over Time

The narrative leading up to the 10th plague of the firstborn is interrupted by commandments that deal with the relationship between God- Hashem and his people -  (a)  the Jewish calendar= the sanctification of the New Moon- Rosh Chodesh and (b)  the laws of Pesach- Passover. The timing of the laws of Pesach is obvious, but why was the calendar-the sanctification of the New Moon given now. And also why was' kidush ha'chodesh' – the sanctification of the new moon given such prominence as being the first commandment given by God to the Israelites as a nation.

An insight and understanding of the Oral laws concerning the sanctification of the New Moon will answer our question - see R' SR Hirsch, Timeless Hirsch R' Adlerstein.  The Jewish calendar is based on the moon and regulated by the sun, so that the month of Nissan and the holiday of Pesach –Passover will fall in the spring. Unlike other calendars which are absolutely predictable as they follow the path of the sun or moon, the Jewish calendar is based less on ' calculation ' and more on the actual visual sighting of the moon and when the Beit Din's proclaims and sanctifies  the New Moon. So in a case where the witnesses said that they sighted the beginning   and renewal of the new moon on Monday night= Tuesday and it is known that this sighting was viewed by lots of other people, but Beit Din only managed to perform the declaration and sanctification ceremony on Wednesday, Wednesday is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month, and  not Tuesday, the day of the sighting of the new moon. The Beit Din can manipulate Rosh Chodesh- the first day of the new month, so that Shabbat does not come before or after Yom Kippur, as it  would cause hardship for people. The declaration of the court has finality, even when it is later learned that the testimony of the witnesses was inaccurate, whether by error or intentionally.  It was important for communities to know when Rosh chodesh fell so as to know on which day the holy holiday would fall. Distant communities ,  because of this lack of predictability and they  did not yet hear which day the court declared as Rosh chodesh,   would have to observe an extra day , the second day of the  holiday in the diaspora , not one day because  of  this doubt.  Because of the exile and that there were longer judges who were   properly ordinated and had semicha needed for the sanctification of the new moon process, Hillel the second, instituted a fixed calendar. What remains of the authentic Jewish calendar is that communities  outside of Israel observe 2 days of holidays-- the 2nd day of the diaspora and don't rely on the fixed calendar.

The downplaying of the astronomical calculation and the fact that the witnesses and the Beit Din process ' trumps' following ' nature and its laws'  means that man has become master over time and is able to transcend time.  While slaves in Egypt the Israelites were not owners of their time, it was their masters. When they became free, there was still the danger of becoming a ' slave of time' and nature and not being the ones who control time, rather time controlling them. A fixed calendar, following predictable astronomical events and linking the holidays to them would give the impression that we were worshiping the dutiful periodicity of Nature, something glorified by the pagan Egyptian culture. It would imply that the relationship between man and God is fixed, static and constrained. It is the ' oral law' that gives man a role, collaborating with God  in the on-going process of creation and elevating nature making Judaism a dynamic religion which can deal with the challenges of time and yet remain authentic  to the Torah given at Mount Sinai and not become a fossilized religion. The waxing and waning of the moon and its renewal are  merely symbols for us , like the rainbow in Noah's time, modeling the rhythm of life and encouraging us to rejuvenate ourselves and renew our dedication to God. ' It is not the astronomical first appearance of the moon , the Rosh chodesh that has us count the days till the holiday , the mo'ed , the special days that we meet and encounter God. It is the renewal and newness that takes place within ourselves that allows us to spend time with God on the special days of the year. Because we can change and move towards Him, we experience something powerful when He makes Himself available to us. Without that change, we would be commemorating the past, and it would not be a moe'd, a meeting and encounter. In other words, Rosh Chodesh is not determined by the moon as by the way it is noticed and perceived by us. It is man that declares the new moon, not the moon itself. Although today we use a fixed calendar , the second day of Yom Tov- holiday keeps alive the spirit of sanctification of the new moon by the Beit Din –law  court  '- R' Adlerstein.

When it comes to our kids we can not only model behavior that shows we are masters over time and can transcend time, but also give kids the tools and skills to manage their time, avoid procrastination, prioritize, engage in sequential thinking, acquire a wider perspective of time beyond the moment, and respond to changes in schedules and unexpected events. We use time to create ' structure and boundaries' which enables one to get totally lost in an activity and in this way transcend time. Punctuality and respecting other's time is an important value. We need to learn from King David who said I  will awaken the dawn. The reason we have problems with punctuality is that we aim at coming on time and not arriving before the time. If we do that, plan to come before the time,awaken the dawn, we will come on time. By over-scheduling kids, we make them slaves of time, but when they have a say and participate in the decision making process, they can become owners and masters over their time

.It is the so-called inefficient process that consists of visually sighting the moon and proclaiming and sanctifying the new moon that gives expression to a value of being a master over time and nature. In contrast , the fixed calendar with its astronomical accuracy makes us slaves of time and nature.This lesson was crucial to the Israelites achieving true freedom and not becoming slaves of time and nature.

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