“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” — Exodus 12:2
The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means “come,” from Exodus 10:1–13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13–28.
The first verses in Chapter 12 indicate the very first commandment officially given to the nation of Israel. It is the commandment to sanctify the New Moon and proclaim the new month. While the rest of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the movements of the sun, Judaism follows the lunar cycle. The start of each month is dependent on the new moon.
Here is how it worked in ancient times: Once the people settled in the land of Israel, a court was set up called the Sanhedrin. Two witnesses who saw the appearance of the new moon would go to the court in Jerusalem and testify to what they saw. If the court was satisfied with their testimony, the new month would be proclaimed. Bonfires would be lit on mountaintops so that the whole country would know that a new month had begun.
Interestingly, if for some reason the court didn’t accept a truthful testimony or did accept a false one, it didn’t change the status of the month. The month was when the court said it was — no matter what. That meant that even if the court was technically wrong, they were still legally correct. Even if every holiday of the month was technically on the “wrong” day, God accepted the worship as if it were on the right one.
The Jewish sages teach that this illustrates a profound idea that God wants us to know: We are not subject to time; time is subject to us. God gave us the power to rule over time!
Many people lead lives that are controlled by the clock. Time is their master. But the Bible tells us that we have only one Master — God Almighty. We are the masters of our time.
No one suggests that we can ignore the constraints of time. Time is a reality that we live with in this physical world. But how do we approach our time? Do we use it as the gift that it is, or do we let it use us and abuse us? Do we let it bring us down, depress us, and compress us? Or do we use it to reach our goals, serve our Creator, and contribute to His world?
God wants us to make time work for us and not the other way around. We can do that by taking advantage of the time that we are given and making every moment count. When we make our schedules, we should determine them by God’s will first and the clock’s tick second. In this way, time will serve us, and we will serve the Lord.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President