I am confused about some time frames. When is the Jewish New Year? Is it the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) or the month of Nissan (Passover)? In the Bible (Exodus 12:2), God says the first day of the year is in the spring, but I always see Tishrei referred to as the new year. Can you clarify this?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the sixth day of creation - the day that the first human being was created. The reason why we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on this day (and not on the first day of creation) is because the entire world was only brought into existence for the sake of man.
The reason why the months are counted from Nissan is because that is when God brought the Jews out of slavery in Egypt - marking the birth of our people.
This reflects two aspects of God's involvement in the world. With Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge God's role as Creator, while Passover commemorates God as the guiding hand of history. This dual-facet is reflected in the Kiddush over wine, where we say that Shabbat is "a remembrance of creation... a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."
So although the years are counted from Rosh Hashanah, the months are counted from the month of Nissan. Hence we have two new years!
Why are there so many rules in Judaism? Can’t I just “do it my way?”
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let’s examine a piece from the Bible, Leviticus 9:1-10:2:
When the Tabernacle is finished, there are seven days of celebration. On the eighth day the Children of Israel put a sacrifice on the altar. A great ball of fire descends from the heavens and consumes the offering. The people are overwhelmed with excitement and emotion. They know God is in their midst. Then two of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, filled with ecstatic desire for even greater closeness to God, take incense and rush into the Tabernacle – and God strikes them dead. The Children of Israel are stunned.
Why does God do this?
The Bible's only clue to Nadav and Avihu's crime is the Bible's words that "they brought an offering God had not commanded." But what's wrong with volunteerism?
Did you ever notice that kids are models of helpfulness at a friend's house but won't pick up their socks at home? It's easy to be good when you don't have to, because there's no obligation to make you feel trapped and resentful. But when you're expected to clear the table, it gets your back up, and then being good is an altogether different and greater challenge. Goodness that comes and goes on a whim is neither meaningful nor reliable. Real goodness is accepted as an obligation.
Autonomy from constraint is a core American value. Pilgrims seeking religious freedom settled the 13 original colonies, and flight from political and religious coercion continues to fuel immigration to the United States.
But exaggerated emphasis on autonomy has a dark side – the breakdown of community and of moral obligation. A father needs to come home and feed his kids every night, even though he doesn't always feel personally rewarded. If each person's priority is his own fulfillment, you can't count on anyone.
Nadav and Avihu did not just value autonomy. They applied their own individuality even where God had not instructed it. (The word nadav means "voluntary.") They felt like making an offering, and they wanted to do it their way. But if you want to get close to God, you have to do it His way.
I'm turning 40 this year. I feel like life is passing me by. When opportunities present themselves, I hesitate, and then it's too late. I don't want to be looking back 10 years from now and feeling regret. What do you say, rabbi?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let me share with you a story from the Bible. After the Jews left Egypt, amidst the plagues and miracles, the entire Jewish nation reached the shores of the Red Sea. The chasing Egyptian chariots began thundering closer. The Jews were panicked. They were surrounded, with no logical way out. And then Nachshon stepped foot into the Sea. (The original "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.") The Sea split - and all the other Jews followed Nachshon into the dry riverbed.
Although every Jew passed through on dry land, the experience of Nachshon was qualitatively different. For Nachshon, the future had issued its challenge, and Nachshon confronted it head-on. The Torah (Exodus 14:22) describes his experience as "going into the water (first), then dry land, and the water formed a wall." Slavery was baggage he'd left behind. He was liberated, both body and soul.
The others, having entered only after the sea split, expressed disappointment in themselves for not having the bravery of Nachshon.
The Red Sea is a metaphor for our own lives as well. Ultimately, the story of our lives comes down to a few key moments of decision. These spell the difference between a life of achievement versus one of regret. Often we procrastinate until the best option no longer remains. The door is closed and we comfort ourselves by saying, "Oh well, what could I do, things just didn't work out."
If you are struggling with this, I suggest taking a few minutes to ask yourself:
- What negative situation am I perpetuating simply because I am not willing to make the effort to change?
- Why am I afraid to change?
- What is the worst thing that can possibly happen?
- What is holding me back from achieving my full potential?
- In 10 years from now, what decision will I regret not having made?
Sometimes the answer is just "do it." To jump into the sea.
Of course, we cannot always know what's waiting on the other side of the sea. But that's part of the beauty. It's our chance to become invigorated with the fullness of life. Just as with Nachshon, the feeling is liberating. Our self-esteem depends on it. And it is our only true option.