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Rosh Hodesh Iyyar 5783 - Freedom and Responsibility in Time

April 22, 2023 - 1 Iyyar, 5783

On this journey from Pesah to Shavuot, from freedom to joyful responsibility, we embrace Rosh Hodesh Iyyar as a celebration of our freedom of time and all of the responsibilities that come with it. Before our ancestors leave Egypt, Exodus 12:2 establishes that freedom and responsibility for the people Israel as a whole. As the Israelites prepare for the tenth plague and the Exodus from Egypt, God gives them the month of Nisan as their first opportunity to establish their independence.

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה

This month will be for you the beginning of months; it is the first for you of the months of the year.

As the people Israel pack their bags, God gives them a blank calendar to take on the way, reminding them that now, they have freedom over their own time in a way they never did before. 

The 15th-16th century Spanish commentator Seforno reinterprets the verse:

From now on these months will be yours, to do with as you like. In contrast, during your days of slavery, the days were not yours; rather, they belonged to work done for others and their will. Thus, this is the first for you of the months of the year, that on it begins your new reality.

For Seforno, the verse’s emphasis on for you teaches of the Israelites’ new ability to decide how their days, weeks, months, and years are organized. Yes, the Israelites will receive commandments from God about holidays, sacrifices, and other time-bound mitzvot, but ultimately, each Israelite will have the choice whether and how to practice what God has commanded. So, too, while each of us may have responsibilities to family, to our health, to school, and to work, we also each have the choice of how to organize our time. We each have the choice to prioritize the responsibilities we know are most important, and we have the choice to let go or alter those that we know are less important. 

On Rosh Hodesh, we have the opportunity to rediscover the blessing inherent in that freedom of time. As we flip a new page on our print or virtual calendar, we have a chance to look ahead and decide our priorities for the month to come. Each of us in this room has at least one item on our to-do list that we have been putting off for far too long. Each month, we can use Rosh Hodesh to choose one of those items and write it in permanent marker or in all capitals on a certain date and time on our calendars. We can use Rosh Hodesh to call a friend and invite them to accomplish the task with us on that certain date and time, so that we limit our excuses not to get the job done. And we can use Rosh Hodesh to find one hour each day, or even one full day each month, to set aside for the unexpected, knowing that when man will plan, God will laugh.

Ultimately, the month’s time may run away from us; we may not get the bike fixed or the car washed. We may not spend as much time with our partner, child, or parent as we hoped. On the Biblical Rosh Hodesh, our ancestors would bring a hata’at, a miss-the-mark offering, acknowledging that they were not able to accomplish everything God asked of them and everything they asked of themselves in that month. So, too, today, when time inevitably runs away from us, we can bring our metaphorical hata’at, accept our responsibility, and actively plan to make the mark in a fixed time to come.

Not only does Rosh Hodesh give us the time to plan and reassess, but also, to celebrate the responsibilities we have exercised in the past month. Today, we have the chance to look back on the past month and recognize what we have completed, especially if it was something we had put off for a long time. Today, we have the chance to celebrate the times we prioritized unplanned mitzvot - returning a lost object or animal, honoring our parents, visiting those in mourning, even taking care of our own health - over what we had originally planned. On the Biblical Rosh Hodesh, our ancestors would bring not only a hata’at, but also, an olah, an offering that God would enjoy in its entirety, as a thank you for the freedom of time they had been afforded.

In the Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Sanhedrin (42a), Rabbi Aha bar Hanina says that Rabbi Asi says that Rabbi Yohanan says, “Regarding anyone who blesses the new month in its proper time, it is as if they greet the Face of the Sh’khinah, [the Divine Presence.]” With Hallel, a special Maftir reading, and a Musaf service that reenacts our Biblical, we celebrate the great Divine power we exercise in designing the structure of each day of our lives. 

What a blessing that God gives us the creative choice to use our time for the people we love! What a blessing that God gives us the creative choice to spend time in a career with a schedule that fits the needs of our family and religious tradition! And what a blessing that God gives us the creative choice to, time and time again, follow a Jewish calendar and daily, time-bound mitzvot that allow us to pause, reflect, celebrate, and mourn among family and friends! 

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784