Naaleh.com presents this d’var Torah on Parshat Bo by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg
In this week’s parsha we have the mitzvah of “hachodesh hazeh lachem”, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. This is actually the first mitzvah given to Am Yisrael as a nation. Rav Soloveichik zt”l would like to explain1 that this mitzvah represents the idea that the Jewish people have the koach, the ability, to be mekadesh the zman, to sanctify time. Bais Din has the ability to create real kedusha in the world. The Torah gives a date for the Yomim Tovim- Pesach, Succos, and Shavuos. However, Bais Din decides on which day the Yom Tov will fall, Bais Din has the authority to decide when Rosh Chodesh will be, and based on when Rosh Chodesh falls out, then the date of the month is established, and that determines when the Yom Tov will occur two weeks later. This is why in our davening we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”. Hashem is mekadesh Yisrael, and then Hashem, along with B’nai Yisrael are mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. We play a role in being mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. The Rav explained that it does not say “mekadesh Bais Din, v’hazmanim.,” rather mekadesh Yisroel v’hazmanim.” Why? The Bais Din Hagadol served two functions2. One is to be similar to the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of certain halachic shailas. And two, in certain areas the Bais Din Hagadol would act like the House of Representatives, as the representative of Am Yisrael. When B’nai Yisrael was mekadesh the chodesh, the Rav explained, they were acting on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael, and that is why we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”.
The truth is this is very important. Why is kiddush hachodesh the first mitzvah in the Torah? I have seen the following explanation. When Bais Din is mekadesh the Chodesh, they are actually creating real kedusha. As explained above, Bais Din decides when Yom Tov will occur. If for example, in a certain year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan could fall on either a Tuesday or Wednesday. And a Jew was planning on eating a bread sandwich on the third Tuesday morning of Nissan. Who decides whether that would be muttar or ossur? Not Hashem, but rather Bais Din! If Bais Din declares Rosh Chodesh on Tuesday, then it would be prohibited because the third Tuesday would be Pesach. If Bais Din, however, declares Rosh Chodesh on Wednesday, then it would be permitted. This is a powerful idea. Bais Din has the authority to create Kedushas Hayom. So too, when a Jew performs any mitzvah, he is creating real kedusha. Kedusha, ruchniyos, lasts forever. When a person performs a mitzvah, the impact, the schar, is forever. Each moment in time becomes an opportunity to generate nitzchiyus. Therefore, as opposed to time being the enemy, time is our friend. We control time. Every moment of time is a chance to produce nitzchiyus that will last forever. Therefore it is fitting that the first mitzvah given to us is the mitzvah that most powerfully expresses the idea that human beings can create kedusha in the world.
We mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well. L’chorah, what does Yitziyas Mitzrayim have to do with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? The Rav explained3 this is the idea. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are yomim tovim which have dates in the Torah, but again, on which day the date falls out depends on the declaration of Bais Din regarding kiddush hachodesh. Bais Din plays a role also in the establishment of the kedusha of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and therefore, we mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well.
The Rav went further. Why is it that we received this mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh in conjunction with leaving Mitzrayim? The answer might be as follows4. A slave lacks time awareness. A slave has no control over his own time. The Rav explains various dimensions that are part of the time experience: retrospection, anticipation, and appreciation. Anticipation “is man’s projection of visions and aspirations for the future. Appreciation embraces the present as precious possession, as inherently worthy.” The Rav explains that a slave lacks this. Time awareness is the singular faculty of the free man, who can use or abuse it. To a slave it is a curse or a matter of indifference. It is not an instrument which he can harness to his purposes. The free man wants time to move slowly, because presumably it is being employed for his purposes. The slave wants to accelerate time because it will terminate his oppressive burdens. Not being able to control time, the slave grows insensitive to it.
The Rav explains this is why a slave is patur from mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama, because he lacks time consciousness. Therefore, it fits beautifully that as we were becoming free men and leaving Mitzrayim, and we were achieving this newfound sense of time appreciation and time consciousness, specifically at that point we were given the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. At that point we were given the opportunity and the obligation to be mekadesh the zman. Time becomes an instrument which we can harness for our purposes. The ability to be mekadesh the Chodesh, the ability to be mekadesh time, comes along with our freedom from slavery, and therefore, we received this mitzvah in conjunction with Yetziyas Mitzrayim.
Our challenge is to use our freedom properly. As the Rav explains, a Jew is supposed to use his time as an instrument, to harness it for mitzvos and kedusha. A person should fill his day with productive uses of his time5- Torah, avodah, chesed, productive exercise, making a parnassah, developing strong relationships with friends, etc… This is one of the lessons of Yetziyas Mitzrayim and one of the lessons of this week’s parsha. It is our obligation and our challenge to be mekadesh our time in our everyday lives just as the Bais Din Hagadol is mekadesh the Chodesh.