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“The Moon Event: Bavel vs. Egypt; the World vs. the Nation”

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

“This month will be for you the head of all months; the ‘First’ for you for all the months of the year.”


In the beginning of chapter twelve of Shemot, God states a one-line command: make the month of the nation’s exodus from Egypt the month that begins each and every year and label it as the ‘First’ month. What actual change is being made in this ‘new’ command and what are we to learn from it?


Ramban quotes a verse from Yirmyahu, “And you will not say anymore ‘the God Who took us out of Egypt is eternal, but rather the God Who took us out of the Northern land (Bavel) is eternal’”. This proclamation was made upon the nation’s exodus from their exile in Bavel having arrived there after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Ramban uses this verse to illustrate the nature of the change God is calling for here in Shemot: just as after the redemption from Bavel Yirmyahu changed the names of the months (they were from that time on referred to by the names for the gods of Bavel) in order to remind people daily of God’s fulfillment of His promise to bring the Jewish people back from exile, so too, here, God wants everyone to constantly focus on the exodus from Egypt, and therefore commands the months to be labeled as ‘First’ ‘Second’ ‘Third’ etc., so as to always relate the calendar back to the ‘first month’ (e.g. “this is the ‘third’ month since our exodus from Egypt”) when they were taken out by God.


Chizkuni, on the other hand, compares it to the time preceding this moment. While Ramban contrasted this change with the change made at Bavel later on in history, Chizkuni compares it to the system established from the creation of the world! He says that previously the month order (i.e. the month that started the year) was the seventh (Tishrei), and it was called ‘the First’ and the first, (Nisan) was called the ‘Seventh’ because Tishrei was when the world was created, so it obviously started the calendar year. However, what God commands now, in Egypt, is to change the order of the months, with the month where the exodus happens, Nisan, becomes the ‘First’ and the ‘creation of the world’ month, Tishrei becomes the ‘Seventh’.


If these are in fact the change that God commands, what’s the reason for it (them)? What significance do we learn from the changes and how do Ramban and Chizkuni differ? Ramban focuses on the fulfillment of promises - the significance of the change in the month’s names allows us to constantly focus on the time when God took us out and made us into His people (this is why all the holidays, during which we are to strengthen the relationship we have with God, are all enumerated by the number labels - allowing us to focus on the correct awareness as motivation for the holidays’ theme). Chizukni’s approach, on the other hand, contrasts the creation of the world to the creation of the nation, brilliantly equating the two creations. For while previous to the exodus the focus was on the world, once God took us out and made us His nation, the world’s ‘focus’ was turned to us as we became its central importance.


And in reconciling these two approaches, we can glean a significant awareness for our lives. In the realm of the day-to-day, we must always remember that God fulfills His promises in bringing us back from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael (just as He prophesized He would); for this, we use the Babylonian months each and every day to constantly remind us of His eternal dependability. However, when the more specific and special Biblical holidays of our year come around, we must also remember the unique relationship He created with us at the exodus from Egypt, on the ‘first’ month of our year.


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