For the five weeks leading up to Passover (these weeks include Purim) we read a special, extra Torah portion, in addition to the regular parsha.
This week’s special portion is called HaChodesh (“the Month”) because it is about how we got the Jewish calendar.
The special reading is taken from Exodus (12:1-20). It begins: “God said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.’ ” (The month was Nisan, which will start soon.) The Torah then describes how Passover is to be celebrated with matzos, a week of not eating bread, the Seder meal and remembering the Exodus.
This is the first mitzvah given to the Jews as a people – it’s the creation of our calendar.
The rabbis explain that the creation of the Jewish calendar is important because as slaves we did not control how we spent our time. As slaves, our time was regulated by the Egyptian masters. As free people, we get to decide what to do with our time.
Passover involves many choices regarding our time. We eat only matzo, which is bread made with controlled time (it must be baked within 18 minutes of the time the grain encounters any moisture, so that it does not rise). We have a Seder, which is ordered in time one step after the other. We remember the Exodus, in which we quickly left Egypt.
So control over how we spend our time is a sign of our freedom, just like the right to vote and the right to free speech. As Americans, we celebrate our freedom by exercising our rights, every time we go vote or speak up on an important issue. As Jews, we celebrate our freedom by participating in our religious observances, like Passover, the Festival of Freedom.
I look forward to celebrating with you in two weeks!
©2014 Nelson R. Block