Parshas Vayikra and Chodesh 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 22

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2, Part 14

Parshas Hachodesh

This Shabbos has a special maftir, describing the commands given on Rosh Chodesh Nisan in Egypt. The haftora describes future events that will take place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Parshas Hachodesh, as this Shabbos is called, occurs this year on the actual day of Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

The regular parshiyos being read at this time also deal with Rosh Chodesh Nisan -- in the desert, during the second year. Last week, at the conclusion of Sefer Shmos (Exodus), the first day of the first month was mentioned as the day on which the Mishkan was set up. It is a dispute if this refers to the very first time the Mishkan was set up, or the final time it was set up -- after the training of the Kohanim and Levi’im regarding its proper usage. According to the latter explanation, the beginning of Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) -- this week’s parsha -- also deals with Rosh Chodesh Nisan. (See Ibn Ezra and Ramban at length.)

Abarvanel: The Importance of Rosh Chodesh Nisan

The Abarvanel, in Parshas Bo, explained concepts of Kiddush Hachodesh (Sanctification of the Moon). Like Rebbenu Bachya, whom we have quoted many times, Abarvanel held that Kiddush Hachodesh was in no way dependent on witnesses; rather, the calculation of the Rabbis determined in advance when Rosh Chodesh would occur.

Abarvanel asked: Since the year is a constant cycle, just as circles have no beginning or end, the calendar should have no beginning or end. Moreover, the Jewish Calendar is supposed to have two beginnings -- Rosh Hashanah and Rosh Chodesh Nisan. What sense is there in having the year begin at one time, and the months begin at another time?

It is a convention among the various peoples of the Earth, that the calendar should commence at a time corresponding to the Beginning of Time, that is, Creation. Nonetheless, occurrences of special importance have their own commemoration. Rosh Hashanah corresponds to the Creation; Rosh Chodesh Nisan corresponds to the deliverance, isolation, and exaltation of the Jewish People.

(The taking of the lamb, in preparation for the Pesach sacrifice, was an essential aspect of Nisan. Many Jews were involved with worshipping the lamb, the Egyptian Deity. The Jews were commanded to take the lamb for a sacrifice to Hashem at the time of the ascendance of the constellation of the Ram. This would demonstrate the elevation of the Jews beyond the forces of the stars and the idolatries. [Abarvanel and Ramban])

The Mitzva of Kiddush Hachodesh (Sanctification of the Moon), explained the Abarvanel, has nothing to do with witnesses sighting the moon, because the calendar is based only on the calculation. Rather, the mitzva is to declare that Nisan, at the time of spring, has primary importance among the months.

Witnesses and the Sacrifice

It appears difficult to reconcile the opinion of Abarvanel and Rebbenu Bachya with the subject discussed last week. We saw how the declaration of Rosh Chodesh in ancient days seemed completely dependent on the arrival of witnesses: The Levi’im erred in the recital of the song, because the witnesses arrived at such a late hour.

Magid Harakiah answers this question. The witnesses were required for the sacrifice, but not for the actual observance of Rosh Chodesh.

Even though the Halacha is not in accordance with this view, but states that the month is declared via witnesses, there is little difference. There are various mechanisms by which the Rabbis could manipulate the calendar, so that, anyway, it would correspond to the calculation.

Retroactive Sanctification and the Two Days of Rosh Hashanah

Rambam’s view is that the month could be sanctified retroactively. If witnesses arrived days late, the court could sanctify the month going back to the day the witnesses reported having seen the moon.

As discussed last week, the Rabbis decreed that if the witnesses did not appear by the afternoon Tamid, the court would close for the day. Both that day and the next would be sanctified as Rosh Hashanah. Ramban explains that the main sacrifices would be brought the second day. If so, the Rambam’s own statement is difficult to follow: If witnesses arrived even days late, the month could be sanctified retroactively, going back to the day the witnesses spotted the moon. That would be the first day. Why is the sacrifice brought on the second day, if, retroactively, the first day is sanctified?

In tractate Menachos, Rashi indicated that the calendar date would be calculated from the first day. Later commentaries associated this statement with the Rambam -- the month is sanctified retroactively (Tzafnas Paneach, Minchas Chinuch, Moadim Uzmanim, Magid Harakiah. [The Brisker Rav, in his commentary to the Torah, independently showed that Rashi agreed with Rambam.])

These commentaries are of the opinion that the Talmud’s statement: "Both that day and the next would be sanctified" -- is taken quite seriously. Each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah have special significance: The first day would initiate the calendar date; on the second day, the special sacrifices would be brought for Rosh Hashanah.


Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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