Parashat Bo – A Summary
“G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month for you shall be the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.'” (Exodus 12:1-2)
In his commentary on the very first verse in Genesis, Rashi states that the Torah should have begun with this passage, because this is the very first commandment addressed to the Jewish people.
While G-d did issue some prior commandments in Genesis – such as the commandment to be fruitful and multiply or the commandment to circumcise male children – these commandments are addressed to individuals. The significance of the commandment to establish the lunar month as the basis of the Jewish calendar, and to begin to count off the months of the year from the month of Nissan is that this is the first commandment in the Torah addressed to the Jewish nation as a public body. The need to create Jewish public institutions to discharge public Torah responsibilities is born out of this commandment to sanctify the lunar months.
One would expect that the very first public commandment would merit its position of primacy by addressing an issue of monumental importance. But what is the significance of counting the year using the lunar cycle rather than the solar cycle? Aren’t the two calendar systems just different methods of locating yourself within the identical stretch of time? Isn’t time the important commodity rather than the method we employ to keep a track of it?
If anything, counting off the years using the lunar cycle is relatively less efficient and certainly more inconvenient. As a result of the need to remain in tandem with the solar year, the Jewish calendar has to alternate between months that are twenty-nine days long and months that are thirty days long and include seven leap years in every 19-year-cycle. The seasons follow the sun, and the Jewish Holidays follow the seasons. We may count by the moon but we must keep pace with the sun as well. There has to be some important spiritual factor to justify all this extra effort. Can we hope to find it?