The Musaf of Rosh Chodesh

And Hashem spoke unto Moshe, saying: Command Bnai Yisrael, and say unto them, “My food which is presented unto Me for offerings made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Me, shall you observe to offer unto Me in its due season.” And you should say unto them, “This is the offering made by fire which you shall bring unto Hashem: male lambs of the first year without blemish, two each day, for a continual Olah offering.” (Sefer Bemidbar 28:1-3)

1. The relationship between the Tamid and Musaf
The final section of Parshat Pinchas discusses the Musaf sacrifices offered on Shabbat and festivals. The Musaf offerings are additional sacrifices offered on these occasions. However, the section begins with the above passages. These passages do not discuss the Musaf offerings. Instead, they describe the Tamid – the daily offerings. As the passages explain, each day two male lambs are to be offered. One is offered in the morning and the second is offered in the afternoon. Both are Olah sacrifices which are completely consumed on the altar. Later passages add that each of the Olah sacrifices is to be accompanied by a Minchah – a meal offering – and a wine libation.

Why does this section which essentially outlines the Musaf offerings for Shabbat and festivals, begin with a description of the daily Tamid offerings? As explained above the Musaf offerings are the additional sacrifices that are offered on Shabbat and festivals. In order for them to have this status as additional offerings, they must supplement the Tamid. In other words, the very concept of a Musaf offering is predicated upon the existence of the Tamid. The Musaf can only be explained in conjunction with the Tamid that it supplements. Therefore, it is quite fitting that the section of the Torah that describes the Musaf offerings should be introduced with a discussion of the Tomid. This idea explains an interesting quirk in the Torah’s description of the Musaf offerings.

This is the Olah offering of every Sabbat, besides the continual Olah offering, and its drink-offering. (Sefer BeMidbar 28:10)

2. The Torah’s recurring reference to the Tamid in its description of the Musaf offerings
The above passage completes the Torah’s description of the Shabbat Musaf offering. The passage specifies that the Musaf offering that the previous passages have described is offered in addition to the Tamid – the continual Olah offering. It is notable that this statement is repeated throughout the section. The Musaf for each festival is described and then the Torah adds that the Musaf is offered in addition to the Tamid. This seems to be unnecessary. The Tamid is the daily offering. Of course, it is offered on Shabbat and festivals. Its very name – Tamid – communicates this idea. Tamid means constant. Why does the Torah specify that each set of Musaf offerings is in addition to the day’s Tamid?

As explained above, the Musaf is fundamentally a supplement to the Tamid. It only exists in the context of the Tamid. Therefore, each time the Torah commands the offering of the Musaf it must specify that it is offered as a supplement to the Tamid. Without this element’s inclusion in the command, the identity of the offering as the Musaf offering would be lost.

And on your new months you shall present an Olah offering unto Hashem: two young bullocks, and one ram, seven male lambs of the first year without blemish. (Sefer BeMidbar 28:11)

3. The Rosh Chodesh Musaf offering
One of the occasions on which a Musaf offering is required is the advent of the new month – Rosh Chodesh. The above passages explain that on Rosh Chodesh two, bullocks, one ram and seven male lambs are offered. The Torah adds that these are accompanied by the relevant meal offerings and libations. In addition, a sin-offering is offered. In short, ten Olah sacrifices are offered with their accompanying meal offerings and libations and a single sin offering.

It is interesting that the components of the Rosh Chodesh Musaf offering are identical to the components of the Musaf offerings of Pesach and Shavuot. This suggests that Rosh Chodesh – in some sense – has the same degree of significance as these festivals. This seems odd. These festivals recall events fundamental to the creation of Bnai Yisrael. Also, they are thanksgiving celebrations that accompany key moments of the harvest process. Pesach corresponds with the beginning of the barley harvest and recalls our redemption from Egypt. Shavuot corresponds with the beginning of the wheat harvest and recalls Revelation. What is the significance of Rosh Chodesh? In what sense is it on par with these festivals? An interesting response to this issue emerges from consideration of another problem in passages describing the Rosh Chodesh Musaf.

And their drink-offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bullock, and the third part of a hin for the ram, and the fourth part of a hin for a lamb. This is the Olah offering of every new months throughout the months of the year. (Sefer BeMidbar 28:14)

4. Ibn Ezra’s understanding of the formulation of the Rosh Chodesh directive
Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra is concerned with a problem in the passages regarding the Musaf offering for Rosh Chodesh. The initial pasuk (28:11) introduces these sacrifices as the Musaf offering for “your new months”. This means that the Musaf offering applies to all new months. The final passage of this set specifies that the sacrifices are offered on all new months. Why does the Torah again direct us to offer these sacrifices on each new month after introducing the sacrifices as the Musaf offering for every Rosh Chodesh?

Ibn Ezra responds that the translation of the initial passage should be reconsidered. The literal translation of the passage is: And on the first of your months you shall present an Olah offering unto Hashem. What does the phrase “first of your months” mean? The phrase is subject to two interpretations. Generally, it is understood to mean on the first day of each month. The transition above of Sefer Bemidbar 28:11 reflects this interpretation of the passage. Ibn Ezra suggests that this interpretation is incorrect. The proper interpretation is that on the first of your months – the first month of the year – you shall offer the Musaf offering specified in the passages. In other words, the passage directs us to offer the Musaf offering described in subsequent passages on the first of the months.

Which month is the first month of the year? Ibn Ezra explains that this is a reference to the month of Nisan. The Torah consistently describes Nisan as the first month of the year. Other months are not assigned names but instead are identified relative to Nisan as the second month, third month, and fourth month and so on.

Based upon this interpretation of the initial passage, Ibn Ezra eliminates the redundancy in the passages. The initial passage only directs that a Musaf offering be presented on the advent of the first month – Nisan. The final passage directs that the Nisan practice be applied to all other new months. Therefore, based solely upon this final passage, the Musaf described in the passages is offered also on other Roshai Chadashim – other new months.[1]

Of course, Ibn Ezra’s response raises an even more serious problem. Why does the Torah express itself in this manner? According to Ibn Ezra, first, the Torah singles out Nisan for a special Musaf offering and then extends the directive regarding this Musaf offering to all other months. Why did the Torah not just treat all the months as equivalents and formulate a single step directive to offer the Musaf sacrifices on all Roshai Chadashim?

And Hashem spoke unto Moshe and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. (Sefer Shemot 12:1-2)

5. The Torah’s names for the months
Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of the initial passage regarding the Rosh Chodesh Musaf offering is also found in his comments on Parshat Bo. In that context, he discusses an additional issue which provides insight into his position. There, he comments on the manner in which the Torah identifies the months of the year. The Torah does not provide the months with names. The names which are now used were assigned to the months during the period of the first exile and are Babylonian in origin. The Torah identifies the months through a numerical identification system. The month now referred to as Nisan is identified as the first month. Each subsequent month is identified relative to the first month. Thus, Iyar is the second month. Sivan is referred to as the third month, and so on. Why does the Torah prefer this numerical system over assigning a name to each month? Ibn Ezra presents a response that is elaborated upon by Nachmanides. He explains that Redemption from Egypt was a fundamental element of our development as a nation. Various mitzvot are designed to remind us of this event. According to Ibn Ezra, the identification system for the months is one of the measures instituted by the Torah to foster our constant cognizance of the Redemption. On every occasion on which we cite a date, there is a reference to Redemption. This is because the month is identified relative to the first month – the month of Redemption.[2] In short, the numerical names of the months provide an ongoing reference to redemption.

6. Ibn Ezra’s understanding of the significance of Rosh Chodesh
Now, Ibn Ezra’s understanding of the Torah’s treatment of the Rosh Chodesh Musaf offering is explained. The Torah begins by directing us to endow the first month of the months of the year with a Musaf sacrifice. This is because it is the month of Redemption. The Torah then directs us to extend this Musaf offering to other Roshai Chadashim. These occasions are endowed with a Musaf offering because of their relationship to the first month. Every month is identified by its relationship to the month of Redemption. Thereby, every month is identified with and recalls Redemption. It is because of its identification with Redemption that each month is endowed with a Musaf offering.

With Ibn Ezra’s insight, the original question can be answered. Why does Rosh Chodesh have the same Musaf offering as Pesach and Shavuot? The calendar system of months is devised to recall and remind us of Redemption. Therefore, when each new month is declared, the Redemption is recalled through the very identification of the month. As an occasion on which Redemption is recalled, a Musaf is offered.

1. Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer BeMidbar, 28:11
2. Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer Shemot, 12:2.