18 Jan 2024 Parshas Bo: Rosh Chodesh & The Freedom of Time… 100 Pain Filled Days Later
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bo, the Bnei Yisrael finally march to freedom. After 210 years in Egypt, the redemption unfolds. The final three makkos – locusts, darkness, and the plague of the firstborn – are brought upon Egypt, the final blow that decimates an already destroyed country and land.
To prepare for the Exodus, the nation is commanded regarding the Korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb, that is the korban of geula and symbol of redemption (Shemos 12). However, immediately preceding the commands regarding the Korban Pesach, Hashem relays the first national mitzvah to Moshe and Aharon:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt saying: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה, this month shall be to you the head of the months; it shall be to you the first of the months of the year (Shemos 12:1-2). Rashi explains: עַל חֹדֶשׁ נִיסָן אָמַר לוֹ, זֶה יִהְיֶה רֹאשׁ לְסֵדֶר מִנְיַן הֶחֳדָשִׁים, שֶׁיְּהֵא אִיָּר קָרוּי שֵׁנִי, סִיוָן שְׁלִישִׁי – the first month of the year is Nissan, and it will be first in the counting of the months, with Iyar being the second month and Sivan the third, and so on through the year (ibid).
It is important to consider the lessons learned from this first national mitzvah, the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, which was commanded to the nation as it prepared to leave Egypt. If we would contemplate some of the most significant mitzvos in the life of a Torah Jew, we might consider Shabbos, kashrus, taharas ha’misphacha, tzedaka, Yom Kippur, to be very weighty mitzvos. What can we learn from that fact that Hashem commanded the people regarding Rosh Chodesh, before commanding them regarding any other mitzvah?
Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik, zt’l, the Rav, teaches, “‘This month shall be to you the head of the months.’ The first commandment they were given in Egypt, which signaled the commencement of their liberation, was to mark time. A slave is relieved of mitzvos asei she’hazman gerama, of time-bound positive commandments. This is because the slave lacks time experience. To the slave, time is a curse; he waits for the day to pass. The slave’s time is the property of his master. No matter how hard he may try to be productive in time, he will not reap the harvest of his work; therefore, he is insensitive to time. His sense of the movement of time, the passing of hours, days, weeks, is very dull. Life, to the slave personality, is motionless. He lacks the great excitement of opportunities knocking at the door, of challenges summoning him to action, of tense expectations and fears of failure. Any faith which is inseparably bound up with time is inapplicable to him” (Chumash Masores HaRav, commentary to Shemos 12:2).
The first national mitzvah was to mark, appreciate, and embrace the gift of time. Because no other mitzvah symbolizes freedom as does that of time. The moment in which I currently exist represents eternity. It holds within it the capacity for spirituality, for tefilah, for acts of chessed, for Torah learning, for doing for Am Yisrael and HKB”H, keviyachol. If one has the freedom to utilize every moment of time, he is indeed, a free man. And if he does not own his time, no other mitzvah, or event, has meaning or significance, for time cannot be utilized at will when one is a slave.
December 1, 2023: Moran Aloni, whose sisters Danielle and Sharon and three nieces were returned from captivity this week, said “‘minimal conditions’ would be an exaggeration” to describe what they went through while held hostage. “There wasn’t food every day. And if there was something one day it was not something you could count on to satisfy you. It kept them alive,” adding sometimes they would need to decide whether to save food for the evening since they weren’t sure if they’d receive something else.
Sharon’s husband David, also held hostage by Hamas, was initially held together with his wife, then later separated, Aloni said. The captors also tried to dampen their spirits, telling them that “Israel gave up on them. And it was something they felt — that Israel decided arbitrarily to raze everything. They had no idea what was going on,” he said.
Doctors have said that hostages have lost weight in captivity, and parents have said their children are instinctively speaking in whispers after being forced to be quiet during their nearly two months of captivity. A top Israeli doctor treating freed hostages said he’s heard testimonies that “are hard to bear” about their experiences in captivity. Individuals have “undergone hardship, physically and mentally,” said Dr. Itai Pessach, Director of Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center, at a press conference. “I feel the need to make their cry heard,” he said. “The world needs to know how evil and cruel the behavior of Hamas is.” He said he is not sharing details due to patients’ privacy, and says it is for them to tell their stories to the public (https://www.timesofisrael.com/relative-of-freed-captives-say-hamas-branded-child-hostages-in-case-they-escaped/).
Rav Soloveitchik teaches that, “Time-awareness also contains a moral element: responsibility for emerging events and intervention in the historical process. Man, according to Judaism, should try to mold and fashion the future. That is exactly why he has been created as a free agent. Man is free to reach central and basic decisions that will determine his, and sometimes the world’s, future.
“To connect retrospection with anticipation, memory with expectation, hindsight with foresight – one must cherish the present, fleeting moment as if it represented eternity. Judaism has a very sensitive approach to the present: every minute is valuable, each second is precious. With a fraction of a second, one may realize or destroy hopes, visions and expectations” (Chumash Masores HaRav, commentary to Shemos 12:2).
As we mark over 100 days of the captives in captivity, over 100 days when their time belongs to their cruel and wicked kidnappers, may their names be erased, over 100 days of their families torturous, sleepless nights and journeys through an alternative world of time, let us daven, hope and long for the immediate day when each captive, and his/her family, will once again be able to embrace the gift of הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, your time is now your own.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,