The Challenge of Time
When something is sacred or holy, it means that the thing we are referring to has a certain, specific designation. The entity’s unique status, in part, is brought about by restrictions attached to its use. To use the object in any other way breaks its specialness, reducing or perhaps eliminating completely any vestige of sacredness or holiness.
The Hebrew word קודש, “kodesh,” is the term used in Judaism to convey this idea. It has application in many realms. The “aron kodesh,” ארן קודש, is the special chest or closet where we house the synagogue’s Torahs. Once it is used for that purpose, it can not be used for storage of other things. The “kaddish,” קדיש, is a special praise to God that can only be recited in a minyan. Said outside of a minyan is a desecration of God’s name. Our Jewish marriage ceremony is referred to as “kiddushin,” קדושין, reflecting the unique and special condition permitting the living together between a particular man and a particular woman.
In Judaism, “time,” זמן, can also become sacred. Some “times” are pre-designated for קדושה, “specialness or holiness,” by God. From creation, God designated the Shabbat as sacred and special. God also established an elaborate system of commands. Some have no time constraints such as do not steal and do not murder. However, some of them are “time caused, bound and restricted,” מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא. The mitzvah of reciting the morning Shema, for example, can only be fulfilled during the first three hours of the day. Wearing tzitzit and tefillin are only a mitzvah during the daytime. The command to eat matzah is only on the first night of Pesach. If you do not eat matzah that night, no matter how much matzah you consume the rest of the Pesach holiday, there is no mitzvah.
Parshat HaChodesh, read this Shabbat after completing the week’s portion, Tazriah, contains two major topics. The second, and dominate subject is Pesach: the laws of the Pesach sacrifice in Egypt, the eating of matzah and the charge to refrain from consuming leavened products. However, the first topic is the command to mark “time,” by creating a calendar system. “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (Shemot 12:2)
From this one sentence the Talmud derives all the laws for the Sanhedrin to establish our Jewish calendar year. One law is that without the declaration by the High Court, the month will not change. God gave man the responsibility and authority to sanctify time. Pesach begins on the 15th day in the month of Nissan. But if the Sanhedrin does not say it is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Pesach would not occur. Man becomes ruler over how he will use time. Does our time remain perpetually profane, or can we elevate time, designate time, and separate one time span from another, as any physical entity can be distinguished from another? How will we use our time? Will we use our time for activities of a more sublime and important purpose for our human existence?
This is the great challenge God has placed before us. How will we use our free will and choice regarding the precious and limited time we have to live? Will we embrace the sanctify of Pesach using its special and unique celebration to enhance our lives through the study of its laws and participation in all of its requirements; or will they be to us as any other days. It is unfortunate, for example, that concept of “Chol HaMoed,” the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot, is almost completely lost in America. For most of us they are just regular workdays, filling time between the first and last days of our 8-day holiday. In truth they are also uniquely designed entities having features of both “Chol,” ordinary, and “Moed,” holiday.
The importance of how we use our time can only be discovered by study. If we study and see the valuable ideas associated with our Jewish “times,” our natural reaction would be that we cannot wait for that special time to come again. Tied to the blessing of שהחיינו, said at various times throughout the year and at special life occasions, is the recognition and thankfulness to God that we have reached a special time or event in our life where we have the opportunity through this experience to further our spiritual growth and development.
With this “Shabbat HaChodesh,” let us rededicate ourselves to use our “Jewish times” as they are designed , to be vehicles for our growth and development as thoughtful and caring human beings.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,
Rabbi Robert Kaplan