By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
January 31, 2004
I wish to thank R. David Avraham Spector of Bet Shemesh, whose Shabbat
afternoon shiur was the basis for this Dvar Torah.
On the threshold of the Exodus from Egypt, Hashem teaches the following
And Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying: “ This
month (HA’CHODESH HA’ZEH) is for you (LACHEM) the first (ROSH) of the months;
it is the first (RISHON) for you (LACHEM) of the months of the year” (Shemot
As Rashi says in his famous first comment to Bereishit (1:1), this really
should have been the opening passage of the Torah, because it contains the
first commandment intended for the entire people of Israel.
Furthermore, says Rashi (based on Rosh Hashanah 20a), another meaning of
HA’CHODESH HA’ZEH LACHEM ROSH CHODASHIM is “this newness shall be for you the
beginning of the months”; when you witness that the moon is new, you should
establish a new month. This is the basis of the Jewish calendar. Sefer
HaChinuch formulates this commandment (§ 4) as follows:
“to sanctify months and to intercalate years in the High Court that is
greatest in wisdom and ordained with authority in the Land [of Israel], and to
set the dates of the year’s festivals according to that sanctification.”
Consequently, the repetition of for you (LACHEM . . . LACHEM) emphasizes that
this new calendar system will identify the Jewish People, distinguishing them,
most immediately, from the Egyptians, and ultimately from all other peoples.
This differentiation is central to the purpose and fulfillment of this
mitzvah. As Ramban writes:
“That Israel must count [Nisan] as the first month, and from it they will
count all the months — second, third — until the conclusion of the year as 12
months, so that this will be a reminder of the great miracle[of the Exodus],
because whenever we mention the month the miracle is remembered.”
Ramban develops this further in his comments on the Decalogue (20:7) and in
his discourse for Rosh Hashanah.
Beginning our year from Nisan is a constant commemoration of the Exodus, just
as numbering the days of the week from Shabbat is a constant reminder of the
Creation. Citing the Mechilta (Chodesh 7), Ramban points out that other
nations assign intrinsic names to the days of week (such as Sunday, Monday . .
. or dimanche, lundi . . .) whereas we denominate every day relative to
Shabbat (yom rishon, - “first day” - yom sheni - “second day . . .Ba’Shabat).
This is a fulfillment of the mitzvah
Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it (Shemot 20:8),
which in turn asserts our belief that the universe is created by Hashem.
Similarly, the Torah calls the months “first, second,” and so on, beginning
with the month of the Exodus, the unique historic encounter between Hashem and
Israel that establishes their exclusive relationship.
Continuing Ramban’s reasoning, Chatam Sofer, in his commentary to the Torah,
Torat Moshe, writes that using the Jewish calendar should be an article of
national pride and identity:
“And this is reproof that we should write in letters and the like ‘the first
day of Shabbat,’ and ‘the first month,’ to attest to the Creation of heaven
and earth in six days “and He rested on the seventh day” (Shemot 20:11), and
about the Exodus from Egypt, not G-d forbid, like the numbering of the nations
of the world.”
He further argues for the sole use of the Jewish calendar in his discourses
(Discourse for 8 Tevet 5593,vol. I p. 93, col. 3; Discourse for 7 Av 5570,
vol. II p. 315, col. 2). He is highly critical of Jews who count time like
their Christian neighbors. As the first Rashi in Bereishit points out, the
Torah begins with the story of Creation so as to justify the Jewish People’s
claim to the land of Israel; why would any Jew who supports that claim abandon
the Hebrew names of the week that attest to Creation? Rather, by combining the
“days of the Shabbat” with the “months of the Exodus,” we bring together
fundamentals of Jewish faith: Creation of the universe and Redemption.
R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabi’a Omer, vol. III, Yoreh Deah, ch. 9) discusses whether
one is permitted to use the Julian-Gregorian calendar. After a detailed
analysis of the historic basis for this calendar, R. Yosef shows that it does
not give tacit acceptance to Christianity. Garnering many sources for his
arguments, he also proves that it is not a violation of and in their statutes
you shall not go (Vayikra 18:3). Moreover, even Chatam Sofer, who gave
reproof, still stopped short of prohibiting the calendar.
R. Yosef therefore concludes that the use of this calendar is not forbidden.
However, he adds, one should try, as much as possible, to use the Jewish
calendar. He invokes the Sages’ precept, “While one can be good, do not be
called bad” (Berachot 30a, Bava Kamma 81b), meaning that a person should not
be satisfied to just fulfill the minimum:
“Anyone who has no great need should write the months and the years according
the numbering of the Children of Israel, especially here in our Holy Land. And
where there is a need, it is best to write, in addition to ‘by their
numbering’ also ‘by the creation of the world.’”
It is particularly significant that the commandment to set the calendar
coincides with the moment when the people of Israel are about to achieve their
freedom from Egypt. As Sforno says:
“This month is for you the first of the months: From now on the months will be
yours, to do with them as you wish. However, during the days of enslavement
your days (time) were not yours, rather they were for the service of others
and their desires. Therefore it is the first for you of the months of the
year, because in it (this month) begins your autonomous existence.”
A Jew should take pride in his distinctive way of measuring time.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In this week’s parshah, we read: “Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim;
rishon hu lachem lechodshei hashanah.” “This month shall be for you the
beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of
the year (Shmot 12:2).”
his commentary on the Torah with the question: The verse, “Hachodesh hazeh
lachem,” is the first commandment given to Israel. Why, then, does the
Torah begin with the story of Creation? Rashi answers, “For should the
people of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, for you took by force
the land of the seven nations of Canaan,’ Israel may reply to them, ‘All
the earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He; He created it and gave
it to whom He pleased.’”
At first glance, it would appear that Rashi
fails to answer his basic question. If the purpose of the Torah is to
teach us mitzvot, the story of Creation should not have preceded the first
mitzvah. It could have been told in a separate book, like the book of
The Torah is comprised of taryag mitzvot,
613 commandments. Ramban, in his enumeration of the taryag, counts yishuv
Eretz Yisrael - conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael - as one of the 613
mitzvot. Rambam does not include this mitzvah in his count. Yet Rambam
codifies all the laws pertaining to yishuv Eretz Yisrael like all the
other Halachic authorities. The reason may very well be that Rambam does
not consider yishuv Eretz Yisrael as a separate mitzvah, like the mitzvah
of sukkah or shofar. Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is, rather, the foundation for
all the other mitzvot. Without Eretz Yisrael we cannot fulfill the taryag
This may be what Rashi is telling us.
Before the Torah teaches us the first mitzvah, it assures us that Eretz
Yisrael belongs to us. Now that we are in possession of our God given
country, we are in a position to proceed and obey all 613 commandments.
Rabbi Yaakov Bulka
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320