Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This Shabbat is the fourth of the four special parshiot and five Shabbatot that precede Pesach, and is known as Shabbat HaChodesh. This is because Rosh Chodesh Nissan falls in the coming week. The Torah teaches that Hashem initiated the season of redemption that would culminate in the Exodus from Mitzrayim when He gave Moshe the first national mitzvah – blessing the new moon. Implicit in this commandment was the entire Jewish calendar and all the associated practices, as well as the four New Years described in the opening mishna of Masechet Rosh Hashana.

R’ Yaakov Abuchatzera, the Abir Yaakov and the grandfather of the Baba Sali, in his commentary on the Torah called Pituchei Chotem, also finds hints of every kind of new beginning in acronyms and numerology derived from the first verse of Parshat HaChodesh. In the well-known first Rashi on the Chumash, he cites Yalkut Shimoni (187), saying that the Torah should have begun with Parshat HaChodesh because this is the first mitzvah given to Klal Yisrael. Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzera finds in this a deeper meaning, tied to the unique significance of the mitzvah of declaring the new month.


As we just mentioned, he sees all kinds of beginnings encoded in this verse, and the beginnings are inherently auspicious. But the new month in particular is associated with the moon, and the moon is sometimes an allegory for the people of Israel and sometimes an allegory for the Divine Presence in our world, the Shechina. R’ Yaakov Abuchatzera sees a special imperative to crown the Shechina over the physical universe specifically on the beginning of the month – and in particular on this beginning which is the beginning of all months. The first of Nissan is the beginning of the year for the Jewish nation every year (following the aforementioned Mishna Rosh Hashana), and the first of Nissan of the year of the Exodus was the beginning of all our years as a nation, bound by Divine decree (and not only the covenant with our forefathers).

The coronation of the Shechina (which we also mark on the first of Tishrei) represents, among other things, the primacy of the Torah over physical reality and our acceptance of its mitzvot to define our lives in this world. We are not simply natural constructs, inhabitants of the planet Earth, but we are spiritual beings in service of our Creator. When we perform the mitzvot of blessing the new moon and of defining the calendar, we are accentuating this aspect of our identity. By this reading, too, the coronation of the Shechina on the first day of this month also represents the effective acceptance of the Torah, even before it was formally given on Har Sinai a little over a year later.

Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzera also references the teaching of the Arizal according to which every month has a different permutation of the Divine Name associated with it. As the first month of the year, Nissan is represented by the Name in its familiar form, also corresponding to the kingship of Hashem over the universe. This name is the perfect conduit for Divine Mercy, used whenever we find Hashem intervening in His universe to bring about an outcome favorable to us because it is His will to do so. The Divine Will to act mercifully supersedes the laws of nature, so everything He created is subject to the power of His name. Thus, we find that in accepting the mitzvah to bless the new moon, we are accepting the Torah, affirming Hashem’s kingship over us, and drawing His mercy into the world. This truly is the first mitzvah!

Ontologically prior to, and precipitating all others, it would have been fitting for the Torah to begin with this passage – had Hashem not also wanted to demonstrate to the nations of the world that, as the Creator of the universe, He may give the Land to whomever He deems fit, as the Midrash and Rashi explain.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].