Time is in Our Hands: Passover Devar Torah

Zodiac – Central Europe 1631. Photo courtesy of Jewish Theological Seminary Library.

By Rabbi Albert Gabbai

We are now in the month of Nissan, the month of our freedom from slavery in Egypt. We just read in the Torah this past Shabbat about the first mitzvah and commandment, which G0d gave to the Israelites as a nation: “This month will be to you the first of the months”.
The question is why does the Torah add the words “to you,” and not simply that “this month will be the first of the months?”
Our sages of blessed memory tell us that God gave the people the right to establish their own calendars; therefore, they determine when the holidays will occur. It is up to the Jewish leadership to establish the beginning of the lunar month and, in turn, the day on which, for instance, Passover will occur. In contrast,  Shabbat is not determined by anyone except by God, who created the universe in six-days and sanctified the seventh, the Shabbat. That day is not dependent on a calendar, but will happen every seventh day.

 Only a free people can determine its calendar. It is only when this nation, the USA,  became free that we declared that the Fourth of July will be a holiday and so on for many other ones.

Jewish calendar courtesy of Bubbe Wisdom.

Time belongs to free people. A slave, like a prisoner, is not the master of his time. As a matter of fact, during Hanukah, the Greco-Syrian forbade the Jews to declare the new moon precisely to send the message that they were not free, but under their dominion. In retaliation, the Jews rebelled to be free again.

We are blessed that during this coming holiday of Pessah, we celebrate the freedom that God has given us. Yet, that celebration must include those who may not be free: be it those hungry, lonely, or those without time on their side. As Maimonides said, “no celebration is complete unless it includes the unfortunate.”
Happy Pessah!

Rabbi Albert Gabbai is the spiritual leader of Congregation Mikveh Israel.

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