‘May the renewal of the moon be for you [the Festival of] the first day of each
month; this month being for you the first of the months of the year’ (Exodus
This interpretation of the verse, cited by Rashi and chosen by Rabbi
Samson Raphael Hirsch as the primary translation of the text, renders each
phrase of the verse another lesson bound up with the Exodus from Egypt. We must
mark the Festival of the New Moon, and Nisan is to be counted as the first of
the months of the year.
I understand why Nisan was chosen as the first
month; it is the month in which Israel became a free nation; but what has the
renewal of the moon to do with the exodus from Egypt? And why is this Festival
of the New Moon the very first of God’s commandments to the Israelites? The
answer, and the most profound reason that we celebrate the Festival of the New
Moon each month, harks back to the special Name of God identified with the book
of Exodus, which points toward the realization of Redemption. The ineffable Name
Y-H-V-H (Exodus 6:1-3) is closely related to the name Ehyeh asher ehyeh, which
God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15). Generally, it is
translated “I am that I am” or “I am whatever is, the Source for the animation
of all life.” It is more correctly translated “I will be what I will
The first translation emanates from Maimonides (at the beginning of
his Mishne Torah), and is closely allied to Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” and
Tillich’s “ground of all being.” The second emanates from Yehuda Halevi (The
Kuzari) and is more closely allied to the plain meaning of the biblical text (“I
will be what I will be”).
The first is the God of Aristotelian “being,”
the God of Creation; the second is the God of Platonic “becoming,” the God of
history and of redemption.
The God of Creation exudes power and
establishes limits (El Shaddai); He operates alone, within a specific period of
time (the seven primordial days of creation). The God of history exudes patience
and only guarantees a successful end-game of redemption and world peace; during
usual world-time. He operates with partners – human beings, especially the heirs
to the Abrahamic covenant – for whom He must wait and with whom He must be
patient until they truly wish to be redeemed, until they are worthy of being
Hence, the God of Creation and “let there be light” evokes
certitude and precision, whereas the God of Redemption, “I will be what I will
be,” evokes open-endededness.
Such is always the case when one takes on
independent partners with freedom of choice to whom one grants empowerment. And
God has chosen Israel to teach and ultimately lead the world to adopt ethical
monotheism and realize redemption because He believes in us and in
However, unlike the seven specific and successful acts of
Creation, Redemption is fraught with advances and setbacks, successes and
failures, progression and retrogression.
That is the major distinction
between creation and history; the laws of nature are basically unchanging,
whereas history – “his story,” our story, not only God’s story – is dependent on
human input and is therefore subject to change.
This change is positive
God created a functioning world, but one which is
incomplete and therefore imperfect.
Conventional wisdom would have it
that just as the laws of physics seem to be unchanging, so are the social
structures of totalitarian empires unchanging and so human nature is
The sun-god Ra – identified with Aries the ram (lamb) – is
the zodiac sign of the spring month of Nisan. Indeed, the sun, from the
perspective of people on earth, also seems unchanging.
Enter the Hebrews
with their celebration of the renewal of the moon each month; sanctifying the
changing moon over the static Egyptian sun. The Hebrew nation was formed out of
the cataclysmic change that overthrew Egypt’s slave society, the change that
forced Egyptian power to bow before biblical concepts of human equality and
Hence the Jewish people fight for change, glory in change and
even sanctify change. But change wrought by human faith and action demands human
It is with this sense of responsibility that we must
approach the miraculous change of our status as a nation state after close to
2,000 years of being dependent on host nations. Now we must believe in ourselves
as God’s full partners; we must resuscitate the vision of the prophets who
insisted that our leaders and populace must be righteous and moral. We must
promulgate laws that express human equality, especially in terms of women’s
rights and minority rights. If we expect to be respected; we must recognize the
sea of change that has overtaken much of the leadership of the Christian world
and warmly clasp the hand of friendship they are proffering.
commitments (such as service in the IDF) must be taken into the account
alongside of religious commitments for those Israelis wishing to
Clearly, we have a long way to go. But if we change, we will not
only survive; we will prevail.
The writer is the founder and chancellor
of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.