This Shabbos we observe Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which the Torah calls the first month of the year. Logically one would assume that Tishrei, the month that is host to Rosh Hashana and the beginning of our calendar year, would be the one assigned as the first month of the year.
However, G-d, due to His deep love for the Jewish people, chose the month that He redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt and when He acquired us as a nation, to be called the first month of the year.
Our Sages tell us that G-d specifically chose the month of Nissan with its beautiful springtime weather for our exodus, so that it would occur in a most pleasing time of the year.
On Rosh Chodesh we recite the prayer of Ya’aleh V’Yavo in the Amida – the silent prayers, as well as in Birchas Hamozon – Grace after meals. The special Hallel – Praise Psalms, is also recited accompanied with special melodies during the morning service.
This Shabbos, since it coincides with Rosh Chodesh, the Mussaf Amidah is different than that of a usual Shabbos; this special Mussaf incorporates the prayers for Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos.
Besides reading the weekly Torah portion of Vayikra, we also read the portion of the Torah which speaks about the sacrifices of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh from a second Torah scroll.
This week we actually take out a third Torah scroll and read the portion of the Torah in which G-d commanded Moshe the laws of the sanctification of the new moon. This command came to Moshe when he was in Egypt just prior to the Month of Nissan when they were freed. Included in this command are G-d’s instructions to Moshe the laws pertaining to the Matzah, Morror, and Passover lamb which the Jews were to observe before their exodus.
This extra portion is called Parshas Hachodesh and a special Haftorah is read as well.
The Torah relates that G-d instructed Moshe to erect the Mishkan – Temple in the desert on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. During the ensuing 12 days the inauguration process of the Temple took place. On each of these 12 days, a designated prince of a specific tribe of Israel offered a dedication sacrifice. Although this was a one-time inauguration celebration 3330 years ago, the first 12 days of Nissan still retain a spark of a festival.
Thus, Nissan is host to many special days. The first 12 days corresponding to the days of inauguration, and the holiday of Pesach, which in fact begins on Erev Pesach – the 14th day of Nissan. When we add the first 12 days of Nissan to the 8/9 days of Pesach festivities, a majority of the month is festive. Our Sages therefore considered the entire month celebratory. As a result certain penitential prayers are omitted from our prayers and eulogies and mournful prayers are omitted at funerals during the entire month of Nissan.
The Jerusalem Talmud relates that had the Jews not sinned with the golden calf, each of the 12 Rosh Chodesh’s of the year would have had the same spiritual capacity as the three Festivals of the year, Pesach, Shavuos and Succos. Since the spiritual capacity of Rosh Chodesh didn’t meet its potential, work is permitted on Rosh Chodesh.
It is interesting that the Torah associates each of our forefathers with a particular festival, Avraham with Pesach, Yitzchok with Shavuos and Yaacov with Succos.
Similarly, our Sages point out that each of the 12 months is associated with a particular tribe. Additionally, each month has its own Mazal /Symbol, the Mazal of Nissan is a sheep. Each month also has a designated letter, a special combination of G-d’s name, a correspondence to a limb, feature or function of the body, and a unique color. There is quite a bit of discussion of these aspects in our Kabalistic works.
The great Halachic codifier Tur, explains that in certain locales women have the custom not to perform certain activities on Rosh Chodesh.
The reason women celebrate Rosh Chodesh more than men is because not a single woman participated in the sin of the golden calf. G-d rewarded them with a special bond to Rosh Chodesh. Had the men followed their lead and not been involved in the sin, Rosh Chodesh would have been part of the major festivals. Consequently, women display a higher level of holiness in regards to Rosh Chodesh.
Chodesh means renewal – each month a Jew has the opportunity to tap into the special energy of Rosh Chodesh that can help us recharge and rejuvenate!