Archive for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh: The First Mitzvah

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Rosh Hodesh

We’re back hard at work here at rabbineal-list after the
Passover break- so far after the Passover break that we’re already celebrating
the new month of Iyyar. So this week we do not read the haftarah for our Torah
portion, Tazria-Metzora, but a special haftarah for Rosh Hodesh, the minor
holiday of the new moon.

This haftarah, taken from Yeshayahu [Isaiah] 66, is, like many of the haftarot
taken from the latter half of Yeshayahu, a messianic prophesy: the nations that
oppressed Israel will have Divine justice brought upon them; exiles will return
to the Land, and Jerusalem will be rebuilt and restored. The connection to Rosh
Hodesh is a set of verses which imagines the nations of the world worshiping
together in Jerusalem, acknowledging the God of Israel:

” For as the new heaven and the new earth
Which I will make
Shall endure by My will

— declares the Lord —
So shall your seed and your name endure.
And new moon after new moon,
And sabbath after sabbath,
All flesh shall come to worship Me

— said the Lord . . . ” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 66:22-23)

What’s interesting about this image is the tension between the universal
spirituality of a new moon festival and the uniquely Jewish expression of time:
after all, while we are all under the same moon, the very first mitzvah
[commandment] in the Torah is to keep a Jewish calendar, beginning with the new
moon. [Cf. Vayikra/Leviticus 12] Furthermore, while some sense of the cycles of
the moon, linking us to the seasons of the year, may be a universal human
experience, Shabbat, as such, is not. The Torah tells us that Shabbat is (among
other things) a remembrance of our slavery and exodus from Egypt, which is the
specific historical paradigm which binds together much of Jewish history,
practice and theology.

So let’s assume for a moment that the prophet is accurately relaying some
message of Divine inspiration: if so, what’s the significance that the various
nations that used to oppress Israel will someday come worship in Jerusalem on
Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh? I don’t think it’s merely triumphalism regarding the
other nations- “see, we were right and now you’re coming to acknowledge it!”-
but rather a message for Israel itself about the real meaning of its sacred

To wit, what Israel needs to remember is that although Shabbat and the rest of
the Jewish calendar are uniquely Jewish ways of living in sacred time, the
spiritual message of the calendar is universal and it’s our job to take those
teachings to the world. The Exodus was a particularly Jewish event, but humans
oppressing each other for economic gain is a problem throughout history. Shabbat
is a reminder of the Exodus because Shabbat embodies the moral truth that no
human authority- not a boss, not a Pharaoh, not our careers, not anything-
should command our souls. One day a week is for our spiritual connection to God,
to Torah, to each other, and to our deepest selves- this is a truth needed not
just for those who were slaves in Egypt, but all those who serve earthly powers.

This is why the first mitzvah of the Torah is to establish our own calendar- so
our sense of time and our growth within it is not governed by Pharaoh’s work
needs but our own spiritual imperatives. Rosh Hodesh symbolizes the seasons of
year and the journey of our lives- waxing and waning, growth and renewal, over
the course of a year in which we celebrate days dedicated to unique spiritual

That’s why our messianic vision includes the nations coming to worship on Rosh
Hodesh: because the message our calendar embodies is one which it’s our job to
bring to the world.

Wishing you a joyful Rosh Hodesh and a Shabbat of peace,


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