Veteran or novice, whom do you choose? Say you are the coach of a sports team and you have accomplished stars but they may be approaching their sell-by date. Then you have some budding talents waiting on the sidelines to get a shot at proving themselves. Who do you pick for your team? You want to win and are safer sticking with the experienced proven professionals. On the other hand, you want to build a team for the future. So whom do you choose?
Pesach (the Jewish holiday of Passover) always comes in the Jewish month of Nissan and there is a special reading for Maftir (the weekly bible portion) on the Shabbos before we go into Nissan. It is known as Hachodesh and comes from Exodus Chapter 12. This month (Nissan) shall be the head of the months for you. There we read how G-d commanded Moses and Aaron concerning the Jewish calendar, Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon – and how ours would be a lunar calendar.
According to the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, Moses had a difficulty with the precise definition of new moon. So G-d explained it to Moses by showing him exactly what the new moon looked like in the sky. This month may thus be understood as this moon i.e. this is the type of moon you should sanctify when you proclaim Rosh Chodesh, the new month.
Why, in fact, do we sanctify the moon when it is brand new, a mere speck in the sky? Should we not rather consecrate the moon on the fifteenth of the lunar month when it is full, an impressive, big round ball of celestial proportions? Surely the sanctification of the moon should be when it is majestically full and not when it is still tiny and barely visible?
Indeed, there are two kinds of moons. There is the big, full moon of the middle of the month. But as soon as we go into the second half of the month that moon will start waning and then it will diminish from view until it is completely out of sight. The full moon is one day away from being over the hill and from there on it’s downhill all the way until the end of the month. Whereas the new moon, small as it may be, represents growth. It may be tiny now but it will grow nightly in the sky and will, one day soon, be full and resplendent. And so the Almighty says to Moses, I want you to sanctify the small moon; this little moon is pleasing in my eyes. This you shall see and sanctify, the small, new moon that will very soon loom large in your eyes.
Israel is likened to the moon. Ours is a lunar calendar because we are a lunar people. (I did not say lunatics!) The Jewish People, too, have a history of waxing and waning, of ups and downs. And just like the two moons, so are there two types of Jews. There is the full Jew, rich in knowledge and practice but content and complacent, perhaps somewhat fat and lethargic. This Jew is committed to his faith, maybe has been his whole life but he is on the verge of a decline. He is about to start waning because he is tired and uninspired. He knows it all, he’s been there and done it all and like Humpty Dumpty is sitting on top of the wall just waiting for a fall.
And then there is the fledgling Jew, the little new moon that has just emerged from the darkness. He is still tiny but he has just discovered the beauty and truth of Judaism. This Jew is geared for growth, poised for prominence and ready for take-off. He is still very much a novice, his knowledge is still minute; but he is inspired, excited and passionate about his newly found faith.
So which Jew will we count our months by? Who will shape our future? Will it be the old, tired veteran who is too old to change and just about ready to retire? Or will it be the new Jew who, though inexperienced, is still longing to learn and ready for renewal and rebirth?
Personally, I’ve always been inspired by the new Jew. I get a kick out of seeing that eager, open mind brimming with questions, finding things I took for granted fascinating. To me the new Jew represents hope and optimism, freshness and promise.
G-d told us to count our months by the small new moon. May I humbly suggest that it is the new Jew who will illuminate our world and make G-d count.
Excerpted from the book From Where I Stand by Rabbi Yossy Goldman. Available at leading Jewish booksellers.