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Shemot/Exodus 12:2 This month is for you the head of months; it is the first for you for the months of the year.
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The word occurs three times in this verse in slightly different forms: , "this month", , "months", and "for the months of". TheBaal HaTurim says that this is "a trebled verse: not only does the word appear three times, but between each one there are three words." He also points out that the gematria of 'month' (312) is equivalent to that of the word "for the festivals" (311) and explains that one of the purposes of this month being the first is to order the festivals in the calendar for the whole year.
The word , "to/for you", occurs twice in the verse. TheRamban suggests that "for you" means that this commandment is to apply to all future generations, noting that in the next verse, Moshe is told to "Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month" (Shemot 12:3, JPS), in order to address that specific generation in and about to leave Egypt: only they had to splash the blood of the Passover offering in the door-posts and lintels of their houses. The Mekhilta, on the other hand, uses the same words to limit the commandment to observe Pesach: "Behold, there it tells you that it is commanded only to you and not to the Gentiles".
Drazin and Wagner comment that, "according to rabbinic tradition, this is the very first commandment given to the nation of Israel." The Rabbis saw it having two distinct parts: firstly, to establish a lunar calendar by which all the festivals would be celebrated; and secondly, to number the months from the one in which the celebration of redemption took place. This provides an anchor for the festival that is more than a human event (such as the succession of a new king, or the winning of a battle); the event being remembered is nothing less than the emancipation of our people from slavery and the creation of a new people, the people of G-d. Nahum Sarna takes this a step further: "The impending Exodus is visualised as the start of a wholly new order of life that is to be dominated by the consciousness of G-d's active presence in history. The entire religious calendar of Israel is henceforth to reflect this reality by numbering the months of the year from the month of the Exodus." Commenting further on the concept that the months are numbered - as indeed are the days of the week in Israel to this day - Sarna explains that "the absence of names for either months of days is probably due to a desire to avoid any confusion with the polytheistic calendars that associate days and months with astral bodies, pagan deities and rituals." The current month names used by the Jewish world are not biblical at all, but were imported from the Babylonian calendar during the first exile. The modern western calendar names its months and days from the Roman and Norse pantheons.
Building on the connection between the first month and the new calendar and freedom, the Sforno states, "Henceforth the months (of the year) shall be yours, to do with them as you will. For in (this month) your existence as a people of (free) choice began". As an enslaved people in Egypt, the Israelites had no control whatsoever over the way they spent their time; they were entirely driven by the taskmasters and the survival task of making bricks: make the quota or else! Once set free from Egypt - and the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means 'bondages' - they could now exercise choice in the way they spent their time, when they wanted to rest, the times for feasts and festivals. Establishing the biblical feast calendar therefore did two things: it emphasised that the people were now free and could take holidays and time to worship G-d, but that G-d was now to be the governing authority in their lives, assisted by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem who would actually declare the months as each new moon was observed. Feasts are times to celebrate, to gather families, to catch up with old friends and to remember all the good things that G-d has done and continues to do in our lives.
Rashi and Hirsch provide the next two steps in our story. Rashi starts with the statement that "when the moon renews itself it will be the beginning of the month for you." Rabbi Hirsch, writing some 800 years later and being aware of contrary accusations that Judaism had become just another pagan religion that worshipped the moon and had drifted from its biblical roots, was at pains to deny these suggestions. He explains that "each time the moon finds the sun again, each time it receives its rays of light afresh, G-d wants His people to find Him again and to be illuminated with fresh rays of His light, wherever and however, in running their course, they have had to pass through periods of darkness and obscurity." The new moon is therefore only a symbol that recurs on a regular basis that acts as a reminder to the Jewish people to reconnect with G-d. To make this clear, Hirsch continues: "The Jewish consecration of the New Moon is an institution for the periodic fresh spiritual and moral rejuvenation of Israel by finding itself again in conjunction with its G-d." This sounds like something we should all do as believers - reconnect with our G-d and be refilled with His Spirit and presence in our lives. This is what Rav Sha'ul means when he writes, "Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18), where the verb "be filled" is a present tense imperative: not only be filled now, as a one-off exercise, but go on being filled, either time and again or on a continuous basis.
Hirsch concludes, "Without this regularly bringing ourselves back into communion with our G-d, without this regular monthly being radiated afresh by the light and warmth of His Spirit, we should always slide farther and farther from Him." How much more so, we who walk by the Spirit, who are called by the name of Yeshua, should seek to be filled with the Spirit and His light and warmth in our lives. If we are to see the reality of Sha'ul's remarkable claim - "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV) - then we need to bring ourselves back to communion, to active relationship, with G-d. In our busy lives, we wander off, we get involved in business or work, times of enjoyment and pleasure, sometimes the bitterness and hurt of others, perhaps fear and anxiety, stress and tension; in all these we can become temporarily absorbed or long-term distracted - without constantly touching base and reconnecting with G-d these can become a spiritual slavery that has stolen the freedom we have in Messiah. Speaking about money, Yeshua said: "No one can be slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can't be a slave to both G-d and money" (Matthew 6:24, CJB), but exactly the same applies to other calls and constraints on our lives. Unless G-d remains at the top priority and we stay firmly and frequently connected with Him, we will end up serving another master.
The structure of the Jewish calendar, whether for Jew or Gentile, provides both a consistent framework and a worked example of how to stay in contact with our G-d. Moshe was instructed to make two silver trumpets, and to blow them for summoning the congregation and for the signals to break camp. Then the text adds, "Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your G-d" (B'Midbar 10:10, NASB). On the first day of each month and on the designated feast days, the trumpets were blown to announce the day and the month to the people, to be a reminder to the people that G-d was involved with their lives. The feasts are spread through the year, not just the three regalim, pilgrimage feasts, of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, but the other important days: Counting the Omer, the Day of Trumpets, Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement, Hanukkah and Purim. These all provide joyful times of gathering and celebrating before G-d while remembering the great things He has done for His people in the past. As well as themed food and liturgy on each occasion - well, no food on Yom Kippur until the break-fast at the end of the day! - there are ways to involve the whole family to make memories and put down firm roots into the fertile soil of the kingdom of G-d, through which we can draw nourishment and help at all times. Each week, we share Shabbat - the reading of the Torah portion, the reciting of G-d's praises, declaring His word - and then fellowship together to encourage each other, building community that can laugh and cry together while supporting each other through the trials and challenges of life. This is the fruit of the kingdom of G-d: lives lived and shared together before the constant presence of G-d!
Further Study: Psalm 81:1-5; Romans 6:16-18
Application: What could you do to blow a trumpet in your life, to remind you of what G-d has done and still wants to do in your life, family and congregation?
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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