“This month shall be the head month to you. It shall be the first month of the year” (Exodus 12:2). This verse represents the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people- the sanctification of the new moon and celebration of Rosh Chodesh (a new month.) Specifically when the moon is at an almost nonexistent state, returning from a state of darkness, we are to declare a new beginning.
Rabbi Eliyahu Safrat brings the Talmud in Menachoth where God tells Moshe, “Observe the moon and recognize that from darkness shall emanate light. The moon will teach you and all future Jewish generations that Israel will be renewed and revitalized, just as the moon. Just as at given times of the month it is impossible to contemplate or even imagine a moon, so at given points of history it will be hard to imagine Jews and Judaism. But I promise you, Moshe, “kazeh re’eh uekadesh,” i.e. precisely when the moon is so tiny, hidden, and insignificant, sanctify it and renew your hopes in its capacity to shine.”
The S’fat Emet says that we follow a lunar calendar because our task is to know how to live, survive and thrive even in darkness just as the moon lights the world even in the thickest darkness.
So it was at Pesach in Bergen Belsen. The Rabbi of Bluzhov sat at the head of the seder table, surrounded by a group of young children and a few adults. The youngest of the children asked the four questions, his sweet childish voice chanting the traditional melody: “Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat either bread or matzah, but tonight only matzah.”
It was dark in the barracks. The moon’s silvery pale glow was reflected on the pale faces.
The rabbi explained, “Tonight, we experience our greatest suffering. Tonight we have only matzah, we have no moments of relief . . .But do not despair, my young friends. For this is also the beginning of our redemption. We are slaves who served Pharaoh in Egypt. Avadim; the Hebrew letters of the word Avadim form an acronym for the Hebrew phrase: “David, the son of Jesse, your servant, your Messiah.” Even in our state of slavery we find the seed of our freedom through the coming of Messiah.”
Light follows darkness, as it must.
As the Jewish experience teaches.
As the waxing and waning moon and Rosh Chodesh demonstrates.