Dedicated to my daughter, Eve Michal Brickner, on her 26th birthday
This passed weekend, we entered into the Hebrew month of Nisan. In the Torah, Nisan is referred to as “HaChodesh HaRishon,” or the first month. God says to Moses and Aaron in the Land of Egypt, “this month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:1-2) Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, the Ramban, a great thirteenth-century Spanish Jewish scholar, explained this passage:
[T]his month should be counted first. …For the purpose of this month should be a commemoration of the Great Miracle. For every time we mention the months, the Miracle will be alluded to. It is for that reason that the months do not have names in the Torah, but rather they are identified by number… Thus, when we call the Month of Nisan “the first” and Tishrei “the seventh,” the meaning is the first with reference to the Redemption and the seventh with reference to it.
The story of Redemption and the Exodus are spiritual landmarks in Jewish collective memory. It is the point from which everything else flows. It is also the moral and ethical marker for how we conduct ourselves in and out of our homes. Once slaves, we understand the crippling effect of oppression and therefore, we must not create or condone behavior that diminishes human dignity. Hence, our moral code emphasizes tzedakah as a sacred obligation to ensure that all people can live with dignity. This is not merely a way of exercising good, but a directive for maintaining justice in the world.
The name Nisan is of Babylonian-Persian origin, as are the names of all the twelve months in the Hebrew Calendar. It also suggests spring as a similar sounding Hebrew word, nitzan, means “a blossom.” This is a month dedicated to spiritual, ethical and environmental renewal. Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Nisan was the day on which the Tabernacle—the temporary sanctuary used in the desert and in the early years of the Israelite settlement in the land of Israel—was inaugurated. The memory of the Tabernacle serves still as a reminder that we are of the Divine, entwined on the cellular and soul-ular levels. The Chasidim suggest that just as the Holy Essence walks in us, we walk within the Holy Essence. It is a fitting symbol that the Tabernacle was inaugurated in this month of renewal, when springs brings forth hope, joy and desire.
Passover begins on the fifteenth day of Nisan. It is actually the first of the three Pilgrimage holidays, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In addition to this being the time of Zeman Herutenu, the time of our freedom, Passover is also the beginning of the spring harvest season in Israel. Passover, or Pesach, receives its name from the time when God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites when he was slaying the firstborn sons of Egypt. Passover is also called Chag HaAviv, spring festival. In this season marked by joy and rebirth, we recall, through the scope of Jewish time, not only the bitter experience of slavery, but the Redemption when we, like Israel’s harvest, grow new shoots of possibility, each sign of life a flowering promise for making our world a better place.
May this be a month of blessing, filled with life and peace, joy and gladness, salvation and consolation!
Shavuah tov – have a great week!
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
11 April 2016/ 3 Nisan 5776