What’s So Funny About Rosh Chodesh?

New_MoonBy Avi Aaron. This week we read “Parshas Hachodesh” which introduces us to the first mitzvah that the Nation of Israel was given as a people. They were told, while still in Egypt, that the month of Nissan would be their first month. From now on, they would be charged with counting the months and creating an exclusively Jewish calendar based on the lunar year.

Isn’t it kind of strange that the first mitzvah given to us as a nation was the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh? One would think that the luach (calendar) would play a secondary role to the more foundational mitzvos of the Ten Commandments, Shabbos and Jewish Holidays. Why was it was so essential for this young nation to receive this particular mitzvah first?

Second, the phraseology that the Torah uses, Hachodesh “HAZEH” lachem, “This” month shall be for you, is befuddling. Generally, when the Torah speaks about a specific object using the term “zeh,” Rashi frequently notes that we are dealing with a visual display of concrete form. It’s essentially something that we can point to and say, “here it is.” Our obvious problem is how can we point to a month?

To understand the answer to the above questions we must digress for a moment and discuss the goings on during the Exodus from Egypt. One certainly wonders what general eternal purpose the suffering and miraculous redemption served in the larger picture of Israel’s history. Furthermore, If we can digress even further, the truth is, the Patriarchs had it very difficult as well. Their lives were fraught with significant trials and tribulations! Why was suffering such an integral component of our historical upbringing?

The Torah doesn’t offer much in terms of character development about our Patriarchs and Matriarchs but one baffling terminology seems to be cropping up again and again: the puzzling references to laughter. We saw that Sarah laughed when she was informed of the impending birth of Yitzchak. Yitzchak and Rifkah were “laughing” by the episode of Avimelech. Why, even Yitzchak’s name means laughter. What was so funny? What’s the joke? Where’s the punch line?

I think the answer to all our problems lies in another, “Zeh” ”This,” the “zeh” of “zeh keli v’anvehu” “this is my God and I will beautify him” sung in the ‘Shiras Hayam.’ Israel joyously sang, “Zeh keli v’anvehu” and, as Rashi tells us, they would point a finger up at God’s glory.

The Sages teach us that a maidservant at the Red Sea saw more of God’s glory and majesty then all the future prophets. It was the unmistakable vision of a God who not only created man and world but continuously controls every dimension, occurrence and phenomenon that takes place. A loving and merciful Omnipotent Creator who’s only purpose for creating mankind was to bestow upon man eternal good and pleasure. This divination was so visible and so distinct to those crossing the Red Sea.

As Israel is being forged, shaped and united into God’s chosen nation the all important precept that has to be absorbed into the national gene pool is this fundamental piece of information: There exists only one God, who not only created the world and but who is continuously and intimately involved in every single aspect of it. He absolutely cares about every little detail in every single person’s life!

Israel had to suffer to the point where “vayizaku el Hashem” ”they cried out to God.” Only then did God show them that there is only Him and only through Him is the impossible, possible. As His chosen nation they only had one choice, God.

Now we can begin to understand why the Patriarchs had to undergo trials and tribulations, as well. As the patriarchs and forefathers of this holy nation which needed to absorb this message, the Patriarchs, too, had to perceive and inherently understand that it’s all about God. Nothing else.

Which brings us to “metzachek,” laughter. What is a joke and what makes it funny?

A talented comedian will lead his audience in one direction building up the joke as he goes along and all of a sudden he does a 180 and switches direction. The irony, the contrast between where you thought you were going and where you actually end up, is what makes it funny.

How do you get down from an elephant? …..You don’t, you get “down” from a goose!

Ha ha ha, very funny.

When I think one thing is going to happen and the complete opposite takes place, it cracks me up. The greater the contrast is, the greater the laughter becomes.

Avraham and Sarah faced the impossibility of having children but then God showed them that “with God” there is no impossibility. Israel enduring the bitter Egyptian exile didn’t have a way out until their cries pierced the heavens. And then the unattainable became reachable. The staggering disbelief of the inconceivable becoming reality can only elicit one human response: laughter.

That is the message of Hachodesh “hazeh” lachem and the sanctification of the new moon. The word “zeh” should constantly remind us of our G-d of unlimited possibilities just as it did when we said “zeh keili v’anvehu”. When we go out every month to sanctify the month and look up at the heavens, God wants us to find Him again and to be rejuvenated once more with the invigorating rays of His everlasting love for His children.

Golus is looking bleaker and bleaker. We look at a world ready to devour us alive. We face considerable problems both as individuals and communities. Parnassah has become so hard and difficult. So many singles desperately need shidduchim. Our youth have become so disenchanted and disenfranchised. There is so much suffering, anxiety and confusion. Life has become dark and dreary. We feel ourselves sliding further and further from our Father. We are so estranged, lost in a haze…

But one second… it doesn’t have to be this way. Go ahead, open your front door and take a walk outside. Look up at the heavens. Do you see that moon over there? That bright and glowing crescent contains a special encouraging message for you. This extraordinary message preceded the Egyptian Exodus and our birth as a nation. It is the message where your ancestors and mine found hope and salvation. But more then that, it is the only message for us as a people and we must internalize it.

In life, things may wax and wane but we can always turn to the Rock and Source. “Hopeless,” “impossible” and “beyond help” isn’t a part of our lexicon. On God’s watch anything goes. There are no insurmountable obstacles just clear pathways of perceptibility. There are no more doubts and uncertainty just confidence and determination. Parnassah can be found, shidduchim consummated, the suffering can be healed and our destiny fortified. Remember how we felt at the waters edge with the Egyptians nipping at our heels and our nation facing imminent doom. We felt the sword at our throats and then…it happened! The waters split and millions of us leisurely walked through a riverbed transformed into a paradise. Amazing!

With God the impossible is only the possible that hasn’t yet happened. And when the so called impossible happens then fire can unite with ice, Manna can fall from the heavens and our nation is taught this all important lesson that we take with us for all of history.

May we merit very soon to witness that marvelous day of boundless laughter. As the Gemara tells us, “On that day Hashem will laugh” and we’ll all laugh along with Him, because who would have ever believed it would turn out this way!

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