Past Perfect: Nisan

Springtime and Pessah deliver a message of renewal, of a time of opportunity for creativity.

Pessah 88 (photo credit: )
Pessah 88
(photo credit: )
The month of Nisan is upon us. The rainy winter, such as it was, is ending and the signs of spring are beginning to appear. Nisan is a special month in the calendar of the Jewish people. Because Pessah appears in the middle of the month, the celebration of this special month begins even at its onset. No penitential prayers are recited during this month nor are memorial prayers and eulogies allowed. It is a month of renewal and redemption, of optimism and hope. The bad events of the past are not to be dwelled upon and the Jewish gaze is to be forward and hopeful. The Torah tells us that "you go forth now in this month of springtime." The Jewish calendar itself is purposely adjusted (seven leap months in every 19-year cycle) to allow Pessah always to fall in the spring season in the Land of Israel. If it were not for this imperative, the calendar could be a purely lunar one, with the holidays wandering around the year continuously, a fact that is clearly apparent in the purely lunar calendar of the Muslim world. Springtime and Pessah deliver the same message of renewal, new energy and an emergence into a new time of opportunity for creativity and accomplishment. The Torah and nature form a harmonious pair, each meant to comment and explain and reinforce the values and teachings of the other. This idea is no more evident than in the qualities and uniqueness of the month of Nisan. This year of 5769, the month of Nisan contains within it another special natural feature - birkat hahama - the blessing of the sun. This blessing and ceremony takes place every 28 years, always on a Wednesday, this time on erev Pessah, April 8. The celestial cycle of 28 years aligns the sun and the adjacent planets and moons in our solar system in approximately the same positions that they were relative to each other at the time of creation. Through the simple blessing that we make on that morning - oseh ma'aseh bereshit - that the Lord has done and continues even now to create our universe, we acknowledge the fact of creation and the existence of our creator. It is an affirmation of Judaism's cardinal belief in God and in His creation of our universe. This year it serves as a fitting introduction to the Pessah Seder which will take place that night, since the Seder affirms the further attribute of God which Judaism emphasizes - the unique guidance by Him of the people of Israel and its special role in human events and history. Thus this month of Nisan represents the two strands of thought and belief within Judaism - the universal and general and the particular and national. It is the representation of these two seemingly disparate views of God's role in human affairs that delineates Judaism from other faiths. The Jewish God is the God of all, of nature and the entire universe, while simultaneously being the God of Israel and the Jewish people. And this is also an important lesson of the month of Nisan to us. Nisan opens for us a portal to gaze at spiritual greatness. It allows us to see God's hand in human affairs and especially in human history. It also gives us a sense of how God metes out justice in this world to nations and individuals. Sometimes, as in the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, this judgment is public, well-known and irrefutable, not given to denial and/or interpretation. Other times it is not quite visible, understandable or immediate. But the Torah teaches us that it is always present. In Pirkei Avot we read that the heavenly court's messengers appear daily on this earth to collect from us humans what we owe to the heavenly court of justice and retribution. But we rejoice in Nisan because that month reveals for us in stark detail the exactitude of God's judgments and the truth of His justice. Nisan therefore stands as a vindication of our belief in a just yet inscrutable God. That is perhaps why the Torah made Nisan the first of all months, not only in chronology but in symbolism and education as well. This month was given by God to us as a gift, as it is written: "This month is yours." It is ours to teach us to recognize these fundamental ideas of Judaism as outlined above. May it yet prove this year to be a time of spiritual and physical redemption as well. The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.