A new nation, Israel, is being born, and it celebrates its birthwith a new festival and a new calendar. Our calendar has a strong lunarfactor, the monthly festival which marks the renewed moon which appears- almost miraculously, but also consistently - from a lightless,frightening sky. The Jewish calendar also has a strong solar element,its first month being Nisan, the time of longer days and agriculturalrenewal after a cold and lifeless winter.
The key word here is hodesh, month, which also connotes hidush, change, and hadash,new. It is a calendar born of hope, an optimism which arose from theexperience of cataclysmic, miraculous social changes which enabledpowerless Hebrew slaves to overwhelm mighty Egypt and emerge a freenation.
The optimism which has characterized the Jewish people for its4,000-year existence, the stubborn, irrational optimism which neversays die - even in the worst periods of exile, persecution, torture andpogrom - "I shall not die, but I shall live, and declare the deeds ofthe Lord" (Psalm 118:17), was born on this first Rosh Hodesh, emergedout of the miraculous renewal of a family/nation reborn. Hence we areenjoined to remember the exodus from Egypt every day (Deuteronomy 16:3)to celebrate and re-experience it during our Pessah Seder celebrationeach year (Ex. 13:3), and to study history with an inner vision whichsees the marvelous changes wrought by the majestic partnership betweenGod and Israel: "Remember the days of yore, understand the changes[Hebrew shnot, shana, shinui] from generation to generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your sages and they will say it to you" (Deut. 32:7).
Egypt, Greece and Rome all had the seemingly consistent sun astheir god and guide, a beacon which breeds the pessimism of "whateverhas been is what will be, and whatever has been done is what will bedone; there is nothing new [hadash] under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9)and "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace fromday to day, To the last syllable of recorded time" (Macbeth 5:5).
It was the Bible, with its account of the Egyptian change andrenewal, which gave the world the symbolism of the moon, thepossibility of light emerging from darkness, freedom from slavery,which enabled us to dare hope for a perfected world and a time of peaceand Redemption.
Moses was a product of this faith in change and redemption inthe midst of slavery and oppression. When we are first introduced tohim, we don't even know if he will survive the homicide decreed againstHebrew male infants. He is anonymous, as a slave is devoid of a name.Likewise, he lacks a clear pedigree: "A man went from the house of Leviand took a daughter of Levi" (Ex. 2:1). It is only four chapters later,when his mission as "redeemer" is defined, that we are given the namesof his parents and grandparents.
The family names are extremely significant. I know little aboutMoses's parents, but I know a world about his grandparents, whoundoubtedly influenced his parents. These grandparents, in the midst ofbleak Egyptian servitude, named their son Amram, exalted nation - andtheir daughter Jochebed, glory to God.
"Exalted nation," in the midst of slavery? "Glory to God" inthe midst of persecution? Apparently they had the tradition of a"covenant between the pieces," of an emergence from poverty andaffliction, and infused their grandson with that faith. Only one whobelieves in the possibility of change will struggle to bring it about.
One of the strangest rituals of our people is the "Sanctification of the Moon" (kiddush halevana), which takes place on the Saturday evening following rosh hodesh(the New Month festival). The congregation leaves the synagogue andassembles beneath the renewed moon. There, they bless the God who"renews the months," wish each other peace, and sing and dance to wordswhich promise ultimate Redemption - a moon which will never wane butwill shine forever with God's light of love.
Peculiar? Ridiculous? Not at all. A people that believes in aGod who is invisible, that has experienced a promised return to itsancient homeland, must continue to dream of a world at peace thoughmost skeptics think it's impossible!
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.