In the Torah portion Bo we read that, "G-d said to Moshe and Aharon in Egypt: 'This month shall be the head month to you; it shall be the first month of the year.'"
We learn from here that it is a mitzvah to "sanctify months, set leap years, and establish the festivals of the year according to the determined sanctification."
Our Sages note that the entire Torah might have begun with this commandment, "for it is the first mitzvah that the Jewish people were commanded."
The very fact that of all 613 commandments the Torah chose to begin with this one indicates that this mitzvah contains an element fundamental to all the rest.
What is so special about this commandment?
The primary function of the mitzvos is to enable man to permeate the world with goodness and holiness. Thus all mitzvos involve the transformation of physical objects into mitzvah-objects, entities of holiness.
This, too, is the overall theme of the commandment to sanctify the new month: The court sanctifies a certain day and declares it to be Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month - not an ordinary working day, and one which establishes when the holidays shall be celebrated.
In addition to the above, this commandment is inherently first in theme and content: Although the world is a composite of both space and time, and time is bound up with space, nevertheless, time precedes space. For all of Creation, including space, implies an aspect of change - present conditions are compared to the past, i.e., to conditions prior to creation.
Thus, before anything was created, including space, there already existed an entity subject to change - time. Therefore the starting point of all creation is time.
This is true in terms of man's experience as well. First comes the actual day, and only then can man make an impact on that day by transforming physical objects.
Sanctification of the new month is thus the first commandment, for sanctity is first imbedded in time - the beginning of existence - and only then comes man's interaction with physical objects - the aspect of space.
There is yet another all-encompassing aspect to this mitzvah: All of creation was brought about in order to be sanctified through the Jewish people's performance of Torah and mitzvos. This is a theme that affects all of creation at all times and in all places.
A Jew's service consists of actualizing and revealing the ultimate purpose within all things. When a Jew performs a mitzvah with a particular object, he thereby fulfills the object's reason for being, and the object becomes a mitzvah-object.
For example, when a Jew transforms an animal's hide into parchment for a Sefer Torah, tefillin, or mezuzos, that animal's hide attains the purpose for which it was created - the hide has now become imbued with holiness.
Since time, too, is created, it is readily understandable that it is meant to fulfill the same purpose as the rest of creation.
Herein lies the additional significance of this most important command: Through the Jewish people's sanctification of months - Rosh Chodesh and festivals - they reveal that the true purpose of time is to be sanctified.
For in reality the sanctification of any one month affects not only the establishment of Rosh Chodesh and the festivals in that month, but alters the entire time continuum, so that all of time becomes permeated with the realization that it is to be filled with goodness, holiness, and mitzvos.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVI, pp. 59-65.
- (Back to text) Shmos 12:1-2.
- (Back to text) Chinuch, beginning of Mitzvah 4.
- (Back to text) See Tanchuma (Buber) Bereishis 11; Yalkut Shimoni, Shmos 12:2 (Remez 187).
- (Back to text) "As opposed to Milah and Gid HaNashaeh... that were commanded to individuals, and were not considered commands so long as all Jews were not so commanded." (Commentary of Reb Eliyahu Mizrachi on Rashi cited in fn. 5.)
- (Back to text) Rashi, Bereishis 1:1.
- (Back to text) See Shmos Rabbah 15:24.
- (Back to text) Yechezkel 46:1.
- (Back to text) Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah ch. 7 (82a).
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Berachah 98a.
- (Back to text) See Rashi, Bereishis ibid.
The Rambam writes
that "On the night of the fifteenth of Nissan it is a positive command of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders that transpired with our forefathers in Egypt, for it is written:
'Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt,' [and the meaning of 'remember' here is] similar to that which is written
'Remember the day of Shabbos.' "
Why does the Rambam find it necessary to liken the manner in which we remember the Exodus to the way in which we remember the Shabbos? Why doesn't the verse "Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt" stand alone?
At the beginning of the laws of Shabbos the Rambam states: "Resting from labor on the seventh day is a positive command, for it is written, 'On the seventh day you shall rest.' Whoever performs labor at that time negates a positive command and transgresses a prohibitive commandment." Thus Shabbos involves both the positive aspect of rest and the negative aspect of not performing labor.
The fact that the Rambam begins the laws of Shabbos with the positive command, notwithstanding the fact that most of the laws of Shabbos deal with prohibitions of various forms of labor, indicates that the main aspect of Shabbos observance lies in this positive aspect.
Both the negative and positive aspects of Shabbos derive from two sections in the Torah: In the section describing Creation the verse states: "He rested on the seventh day from all His labor which He had done. And G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on it He rested from all His labor..." - emphasizing that on this day there was both rest and cessation from labor.
In the section describing G-d's giving of the Torah, where the Jews are told: "Remember the day of Shabbos," the verse goes on to state: "For [in] six days the L-rd made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day."
In other words, here we are told that Shabbos is unique not only in that G-d ceased on it from the labor of the Six Days of Creation, but more importantly, that Shabbos is G-d's day of rest.
Thus, the more important part of "Remembering the day of Shabbos" is the positive sense of rest rather than the mere negation of labor, as our Sages state that after the completion of the Six Days of Creation the world was lacking rest and tranquillity. Only when Shabbos began did rest and tranquillity arrive. Or as the Rambam expresses it: " 'Remember it' - a remembrance of praise and sanctification."
With regard to the exodus from Egypt as well, we find two aspects: the release of the Jewish people from servitude, and the fact that we became a free, independent people.
This is similar to the condition achieved by every freed slave: His master's dominion over him ceases; as a free man he becomes wholly his own person.
By connecting the tale of the Exodus on the fifteenth of Nissan to remembrance of the Shabbos, the Rambam is indicating that with regard to relating the events of the Exodus too, the main aspect is the positive step of becoming free.
For just as remembering the Shabbos involves not so much the negation of labor as the positive theme of rest, so too the obligation to relate the tale of the Exodus involves not so much the recalling of our release from slavery as the recounting of how we became free men.
Thus the Rambam goes on to say in the following law that even when one relates the tale of the Exodus to a son who is a minor or simpleton he should say: "On this night G-d redeemed us and took us out to freedom," thereby emphasizing that G-d enabled us to become free.
Consequently, the Rambam goes on to say that "An individual is obligated to conduct himself as if he himself had just gone out of Egypt" - "as if you yourself were enslaved, and you went out to freedom and were redeemed."
One should conduct himself on this night as a free man.
Compiled from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, pp. 68-73.
- (Back to text) Hilchos Chametz U'Matzah beg. of ch. 7.
- (Back to text) Shmos 13:3.
- (Back to text) Shmos 20:8.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 23:12.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 2:2-3.
- (Back to text) Shmos 20:11.
- (Back to text) Commentary of Rashi, on Bereishis 2:2 and on Megillah 9a. (See also Bereishis Rabbah 10:9).
- (Back to text) Beginning of ch. 29 of Hilchos Shabbos.
- (Back to text) See also Likkutei Sichos, XII, p. 47.
- (Back to text) Halachah 6-7.