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The “Real” Jewish New Year #720

04/01/2022 04:56:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Tazria/Shabbat HaChodesh
The "Read" Jewish New Year

In a few moments, I’m going to ask you whether you agree with Rabbi Joshua or Rabbi Eliezer.

Do you think the true Jewish New Year begins tonight, or will it arrive next September 25?

Most importantly, why should we care, and what does all of this have to do with events occurring overseas?

Welcome to the heart of a rabbinical debate — dating back 2,000 years — as we reflect upon, “When the Jewish journey actually began.”

The Torah tells that when the Israelites were about to depart Egypt, God declared, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:1).

And that month, the month of Nissan, according to the Jewish calendar, begins this year — tonight at sundown.

Notes Rabbi Joshua: “In Nissan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt.” It was springtime, a time of growth, renewal and liberation. According to Rabbi Joshua and many of his colleagues, it was at that point that the counting of the Jewish people truly began.

As we all know, Jews traditionally mark the New Year on Rosh Hashanah, which usually arrives in early fall. Our rabbis teach that Rosh Hashanah, which occurs on the first of Tishrei — the seventh month of the year — marks the creation of the world.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, citing many agricultural and metrological clues, “In Tishrei the world was created.”

So, which one is it? Should the true Jewish New Year coincide with the coming of Passover — or should it be reserved for Rosh Hashanah?

This year, as I consider this theoretical rabbinical question, I find myself reflecting upon events unfolding in Ukraine. For according to Rabbi Joshua — as he considers the biblical verse from Exodus, a nation can count its days only when it is free.

For hundreds of years in Egypt, the Israelites barely survived. We had no freedom. We had no identity. 

But just as the Israelites were liberated from Egypt — battered, confused, wounded and exhausted — the Jewish clock began ticking.

A free nation can choose its destiny. A free nation can develop values, traditions, and a national code of conduct. A free nation can embrace its victories and learn from its mistakes.

Is it any different today, as we observe the bravery and resolve of the Ukrainian people repelling the Pharaoh of our day?

Throughout history, we as Jews have fought to maintain our identity — because freedom is worth fighting for. It defines nationhood.

If Vladimir Putin needs any evidence of Ukraine’s right to exist, let him reflect upon the passion exhibited by Ukrainian fighters — professionals and civilians — to protect their freedom. It is worth cherishing. It is worth dying for.

This is ever more reason that this year, I’m weighing in stronger on the side of Rabbi Joshua, who inspires us to consider that freedom forms the foundation of nationhood.

It is one reason why thousands of years ago, God designated the month of Passover, Nissan, as the time when the days of our nationhood truly began to count.

In about seven months, on Rosh Hashanah, we will further declare the newness of the year. Indeed, Rosh Hashanah provides us with an opportunity to consider our conduct, and the status of our souls.

But tonight, as the sun sets, we will mark a special Shabbat — Shabbat HaChodesh — translated as the Shabbat of The Month. The month is so important that it needs no further introduction.

For Nissan is understood to be the month of freedom. It reminds us that while Rosh Hashanah is a personal holy day, Passover is a time to give thanks and praise God for our national liberation and on our ongoing freedoms. 

Ultimately, the great sage, Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171), concluded that Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer were both right. Freedom and spirituality should be celebrated both individually and collectively.

Yet, as we watch events unfold in Ukraine — as an outnumbered army fights for its liberty — we are reminded that freedom is not to be taken for granted.

Freedom is something we fight for, and when achieved, we embrace and defend it with every fiber of our being.

It is a lesson God inspired the Israelites to consider as they departed Egypt. It is a lesson echoed, these days, by the courage and passion of the Ukrainian people.

So, who do you think was right, Rabbi Joshua or Rabbi Eliezer? When is the true Jewish New Year? is it the individual or the collective one?

As the sun sets this afternoon, I will be thinking about the people of Ukraine, and the message God shared more than 3,000 years ago.

As Rabbi Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) noted, God’s designation of the “first month” following centuries of persecution and genocide, continues to serve as a symbol “of Israel’s capacity for constant renewal.”

This passion and ultimate respect for freedom perhaps emanates from the DNA of Ukraine’s Jewish born president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

On this Shabbat, more than ever, we give thanks for the freedom we enjoy within our country, within our homes, within our beloved State of Israel.

We wish the same for the people of Ukraine. May their fight for freedom lead to victory and restoration.

With Passover quickly approaching, on this Shabbat HaChodesh, the Shabbat of The Month, may the people of Ukraine be ultimately blessed with peace.

As they fight to honor and defend freedom, may they and their country be truly renewed.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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