So, What Else is New?
This Sabbath we complete the reading of the Book of Exodus, and we also read Parshat Hachodesh, the Torah passage (Exodus 12) that commands the Jewish High Court to bless the months. The reading of this passage heralds the imminent arrival of the first month in the Jewish calendar, the month of Nisan. These readings are not united by coincidence. The month of Nisan ushers in the anniversary of the Exodus and is known as the Chodesh of Geulah, the Month of Redemption. Its arrival represents the initiation of the Redemption process, and the end of Pikudei is the description of its culmination.
THE REDEMPTION IS SANDWICHED BETWEEN THE TWO READINGS
The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34)
Nachmonides, in his introduction to Exodus, explains that the coming to rest of the Divine Presence on the Tabernacle described in this verse records the achievement of tangible, physically visible contact between God and the Jewish people. The spiritual fusion between God and Israel that such contact indicates was the entire point of the Exodus.
The process of establishing contact with God is initiated by the commandment to sanctify the months, the very first commandment to be issued to the Jewish people as a people, and culminates with the physically visible attachment of God and Jewish people described at the end of Pikudei, bringing the two readings of the Sabbath into close alignment as representing the opposite ends of a single process.
But what is the spiritual connection between sanctifying new months and successfully constructing Tabernacles? We hope to explore this relationship in the context of this essay.
Let us begin by looking at Jewish months. In the Jewish calendar the year begins with Rosh Hashanah, which falls on the first day of the month of Tishrei, but it is the month of Nisan that is called the Chodesh Harishon, or the first month. In effect, the Jewish year begins in the seventh month!
Nachmonides (Ibid) explains: the Jewish names for the months originated in the Babylonian exile. Prior to that time the months were deliberately left nameless as the Torah specifically commands, "this month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year" (Exodus 12:2) - a clear injunction to identify the months by number and not by name, counting from Nisan which is chosen by the Torah to fill the number one slot.
In other words, we are commanded to think of monthly time as beginning with the redemption of the Exodus, so that each time we refer to a month, we commemorate the Exodus and measure the time that has elapsed since the redemption. Indeed, this practice is faithfully followed throughout the entire Torah. The months are invariably referred to by number.
NAMES AND NUMBERS
The names of the months are actually Persian. They also serve to emphasize that we Jews measure time as beginning with the Redemption, except that these Persian names were introduced as a reminder that there was a second redemption which also began in monthly time and which must also be commemorated. These names first appear in the Books of the Bible encoded after the Babylonian exile, Ezra, Nechemia, Daniel and Esther.
The Jews who returned to Israel with Ezra began the practice of referring to the months by their Persian names to remind themselves that they were living in the era of the second redemption superimposed on the first in compliance with the commandment:
"However, behold, days are coming, the word of God, when it will no longer be said, 'As God lives, Who took out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,' but rather, 'As God lives, Who took out the children of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands where He had scattered them...'"(Jeremiah 16:14-15)
REDEMPTION IS PACKAGED IN MONTHS, NOT YEARS
There is no question about it - the Jewish months are correlated with the idea of redemption. Redemption is a function of months, not years. Apparently, months and years contain different sorts of time. How can we explain this?
Rabbi Akiva used to say: a father's merit can be applied to his children. Thus his merit can cause God to make his children beautiful, strong, wealthy, wise and long living. This need not happen to his own children but can occur several generations later when the 'end' is reached. Thus: "He, Who proclaimed the generations from the beginning..." (Isaiah 41:4); an illustration - although it is written, "...your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own, they will serve them, and they will oppress them for four hundred years" (Genesis 15,13) it is still stated that "the fourth generation will return here" (Ibid., 16) (Mishna, Eduyot 2,9)
Rabbi Hutner explained the Mishna thus: servitude is a function of years, but redemption arrives with the generations. Time does not bring redemption; people do. Thus the Mishna points out that the benefits that God showers upon the children of deserving parents are scheduled for delivery according to the march of generations rather than by the passage of time. Time brings oppression and servitude; it cannot deliver benefits or redemption. As we have already established that the redemption is a function of months rather than years, it follows that it is the months that are associated with the appearance of new generations rather than the years. What does all this mean?
Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation. Each year God renews creation, and places enough potential energy into the Cosmos to keep them running through another cycle of seasons. But the renewal of Rosh Hashanah is translated into reality through the avenue of natural law. A year long branch is broken off from the trunk of the tree of Eternity, and the result is a sharply defined, self-contained chunk of limited time. This limited time serves as the container of a limited sort of reality. In the reality it defines there is nothing infinite; there is only so much land, so many people, so many stars and constellations.
In every limited reality, the issue of distribution must be addressed. There isn't enough for everyone, and it must be decided who receives what and how much. Thus, the world is also judged on Rosh Hashanah when it is renewed, and all the decisions that must be made regarding the allocation of the renewed resources are reached. Portions of the world's limited amount of goods are awarded to different individuals and nations.
In this sort of limited reality, some people will end up lacking and they must serve those that were blessed with plenty and have more than they require in order to survive. When there was a famine in Cana'an, Jacob was forced to transplant his family to Egypt. As the powerful tradition of the Jewish people would not allow them to assimilate, they remained a foreign body in Egypt, a mini nation living in someone else's country lacking its own resources. According to the laws of cause and effect that prevail in the limited physical universe, their enslavement was almost inevitable. The limited reality that is contained in yearly time must deliver the Jewish people into bondage. Years are associated with enslavement.
The redemption from Egypt cannot be understood as just a simple reshuffling of the goods made available by the forces of nature. The redemption was from the reality defined by natural time itself. The redemption represents the introduction of a new reality. This reality also takes place within time, but it belongs to the time of months and not years.
In the physical world that God created, the world of limitations, life itself is limited. All things grow old and die. It makes no difference whether we look at individuals, cultures or empires. As soon as something is born in this world, the clock that measures its life force starts to run down. All things die. Cultures generally outlast empires, which usually outlast individuals, but no matter how long their lifespan, all things must inevitably die. In order to survive death, it must be possible to tap into a new source of being that is not part of the physical world God gave us at creation and which He renews every Rosh Hashanah.
THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW REALITY
We have explained in previous essays that all human beings have a Nefesh that is entirely spiritual; in fact it is what people call soul. All created reality must originate in the realm of the spiritual, as the Divine energy which is the fundamental building block of all created existence, is a spiritual emanation. Physicality is the result of distance from Divinity. The cloak of matter renders the Divine energy that gives it being invisible.
The spiritual Nefesh is the source of the physical life force as well as of intelligence. This Nefesh was implanted into man at the time of the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah and is a part of the world of limited reality. Even the spiritual power innate in human beings cannot introduce genuine novelty into a world that is dominated by natural time. Man's spirituality is also a part of the limited physical universe and falls under the domination of time.
There is, however, a second sort of Nefesh, which acts as the source of a different sort of life force. This Nefesh is a product of the Neshama that is described at its origin as a part of God Himself. As the spiritual light shining out of the Neshama spreads out into the distance, it generates a Ruach, a holy spirit, which in turn generates a new holy Nefesh which bonds with the original Nefesh innate in man, the source of his intelligence and physical life force. The source for that original Nefesh was the earth; the source for this new Nefesh is the breath of God Himself, called the Neshama [a word meaning breath in Hebrew, based on the verse in Genesis 2:7].
When Adam sinned, he lost his connection with his Neshama and with the new Nefesh that it generates, a loss that is symbolized by his banishment from the Garden of Eden. Thus, following the expulsion, the connection to this second Nefesh, the Nefesh Elokit, or the Godly Soul, is no longer innate in man, who is left connected only to his earthly Nefesh. The spiritual energy flowing from the Neshama no longer reaches all human beings through the pipeline of the Nefesh Elokit as God intended when He first injected the Neshama into Adam.
THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL CONTRASTED WITH NATIONAL SPIRIT
Every individual human being has free will and is able to reconnect himself to the Neshama and ultimately to God as an individual. As he is able to make choices, he can refashion himself in any way that he or she sees fit. But nations are collective entities. They have a collective Nefesh. Collectives cannot reinvent themselves. They can fragment into parts, and each of these components is able make a new start, or they can be conquered and changed by forces from the outside, but they cannot reinvent themselves.
Jewish tradition maintains that human collectives or nations were also created by God, just as human individuals were. Unfortunately, by the time the nations of the world were brought into existence, man had lost his connection with the Nefesh Elokit. When God formed the nations He was only to employ the spiritual inputs that were available after the Expulsion.
"When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel." (Devarim 32:8)
Rashi explains in the name of the Sifri: when God separated the human family into separate units, at the time of the great Dispersal, He established seventy different human cultures and languages. He picked the number seventy to parallel the number of adult male Jewish individuals who went down to Egypt. Thus it was God who separated mankind into nations and stamped each nation with its own individual unique character and Nefesh.
As nations have a spiritual life force that makes them distinct from each other just as individuals do, in practice this means that all the nations of the world derive their spiritual life force from the lower Nefesh, the only Nefesh with which mankind was connected at the time of the Dispersal. The national Nefashot or souls are therefore spiritual potentials that were already present at the time of creation, and derive from the spirituality innate in the natural world. They are renewed on Rosh Hashanah and they also fall under the dominance of natural time.
THE NEFESH OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
The uniqueness of the Jewish people derives from the fact that the life force of the Jewish nation flows from the Nefesh Elokit and originates in the Neshama. The connection to this Nefesh was recovered by the Patriarchs, who reestablished the original human-Divine interaction with God that Adam forfeited through his sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Not only did the Patriarchs recover it themselves, they also managed to pass this reestablished connection down to their children. It was their connection with the Neshama that stopped the Jewish people from assimilating in Egypt.
When they grew 600,000 strong, the number required to be considered a nation; the Jewish national Nefesh that was forged out of the union of these individual human Nefashot was automatically a Nefesh Elokit, as all the descendants of the Patriarchs possessed an innate connection to the Nefesh Elokit.
The term that expresses the spiritual life force of the Jewish people is called Knesset Yisroel. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explains that this term represents the spiritual life force of individual Jewish Neshamot all fused into a single entity (Nefesh Hachaim, Gate 1, ch.5). Knesset Yisroel is also referred to as the Shechina, the name of God used to portray the Divine Presence which suffuses the Tabernacle. (Zohar Chadash, Ruth) As always in spiritual unions, when two entities fuse it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. [see the previous essay on Pikudei for a detailed explanation of the significance of spiritual fusion]
The Nefesh Elokit is sourced in the Neshama, which is above the level of reality that falls under the umbrella of time. At the level of the Neshama nothing ages or dies. The Neshama belongs to a sphere where reality consists of relationships and isn't incased in matter or physicality. The Divine energy of the Neshama isn't hidden. The time frame associated with the Neshama is not a separate chunk chopped out of the Infinite, but remains connected with Infinity.
In our physical world, all being is expressed in terms combinations of physical particles, and entropy, the second law of thermodynamics prevails. This law states that in any closed system made up of physical particles disorder must always increase. The ordered arrangement of particles which defines all being in the physical universe must inevitably become scrambled and fall apart. Material things must age and die.
But the law of entropy doesn't apply to relationships even in our world. Relationships can stay fresh and vibrant for a lifetime. Many couples remain deeply in love with each other till their deaths, people form lifetime friendships, the love between siblings or between parents and children lasts forever. A nation whose Nefesh, or life force flows from the relationship formed between the Neshama and the Shechina is immune to the ravages of time and will survive forever.
YEARS AND MONTHS REVISITED
Parshat HaChodesh kicks off the redemption because it detaches the Jewish people from the dominance of years and attaches them to the sphere of monthly time. Any life force sourced in the original creation of the world represented by the cycle of years which is renewed every Rosh Hashanah must inevitably wear out and die. But months are associated with rebirth. The moon fades away; it dies symbolically every month, and is constantly reborn. When life is detached from years it is detached from death. All things that fall under ordinary time contain the seeds of their death within them even as they are at the peak of their vitality. The clock of entropy is constantly ticking.
When time is attached to months it is fused with rebirth. Release from the shackles of entropy is the essence of redemption.
The life force supplied by the Nefesh Elokit cannot be inserted directly into the reality represented by the cycle of years. Its entry into the physical world is routed through the collective Nefesh of the Jewish people, who physically inhabit the world of natural time. The collective Nefesh expresses itself in generations, just as the individual Nefesh gives every person his own uniqueness and flavor. Redemption is a function of the attachment to this Nefesh Elokit. That is why it Redemption is a function of generations, and why it must be measured in months rather than years.
The connection between the sanctification of months and the successful erection of Tabernacles has clearly emerged. The sanctification of the months emancipates the Jewish people from the constriction of natural time by attaching them to eternity. The coming to rest of the Shechina on the Tabernacle is evidence of its perfect fusion with Knesset Yisroel. The Jewish nation draws its life force from this fusion with God.
We have already stated that it is only individuals who have free will. Nations must always express the life force that is supplied by their spiritual essence, the collective Nefesh. Just as the collective Nefesh of other nations belongs to the natural world of years, the collective Nefesh of Israel derives from the higher realms of the Nefesh Elokit. The Jewish people can never assimilate. The energy of its life source will always compel the Jewish people to continue to express the connection between Knesset Yisroel and the Shechina. Everyone must express the source of his being.