Parshas Hachodesh- Reaching For Eternity

Man has long been obsessed with the elusive dimension known as Time. The distinguished British man of letters, J.B. Priestley, wrote a volume titled Man and Time in which he detailed mankind’s fascination with the quiet passage of all the moments in our lives. From Aristotle to Einstein, he marshaled such definitions as “the soul of the world” (Pythagoras) and “the illimitable, silent, never-resting thing called Time” (Carlyle). However, it took until Albert Einstein for mankind to realize that Time was actually a distinct dimension that interacts with space in ways we are just beginning to understand. Yet, the Vilna Gaon pointed out facilely over two centuries ago that Time was one of G-d’s creations. He taught us that each day, when we recite Boruch She’amar, we refer to this important part of the cosmos. The words maaseh bereishis refer to the universe as a whole, but boruch oseh bereishis refer to the creation of the entity known as Time (Siddur HaGra, Siach Yitzchok, page 49). Once a year, on Parshas Hachodesh, Klal Yisroel reflects upon our own relationship with Time and how we can use and bend it to serve Hashem properly. Let us therefore take a few moments at this time (all puns intentional) to explore the profound place the bri’ah of time occupies in our lives.

We all know that Time is an extremely important component in our Pesach preparations. We left Mitzrayim in a hurry (bechipazon) and the Rambam’s Haggadah indeed begins with the Aramaic words “Bebehilu yatzanu miMitzrayim – we left Mitzrayim in a rush.”

Chazal tell us that had we not left so swiftly, we might still be sunken in the 49th level of depravity in Egypt. Hashem manipulated the date of the exodus so that this should not happen (chishav es hakeitz).

Matzoh itself, which represents so much of the essence of Pesach, must be baked rapidly or it will turn into the dreaded chometz, which we avoid so assiduously the entire Yom Tov. Why does this Yom Tov, of all the others, revolve so determinedly around the dimension of Time?

Let us examine the one trait most bound-up with time management, the middah of zerizus. It would actually seem that this trait of alacrity, doing things promptly, has its Torah source in matzoh baking itself. The Torah adjures us, “Ushemartem es hamatzos – And you shall guard the matzos” (Shemos 12:17). Chazal (Mechilta ibid.) teach that this posuk also means that “one should not ruin any mitzvah” by delaying it and not performing it with zerizus. My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach, 1:1), basing himself upon the words of the Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaTorah 17), reveals an astounding point about this middah. Without the juxtaposition with matzoh, we might have thought that a mitzvah performed lazily, without zerizus, is just lacking this one quality; otherwise, it is a fine mitzvah. The connection with matzoh reveals that just as a matzoh made without zerizus is not even a matzoh, but its antithesis, chometz, so all mitzvos are fatally flawed by the lack of what seemed to be an ancillary and not quite crucial aspect of the mitzvah. Why is this so?

Rav Hutner explains that there are two types of zerizus. One, which we usually have in mind, refers to the usual type of punctuality and expeditiousness that can be applied to either sacred or mundane situations. However, there is another – much loftier – zerizus, which is limited to devorim shebekedushah and to Klal Yisroel. The proof that there is, in fact, such a higher zerizus, is demonstrated by Rav Hutner from a Gemara (Eiruvin 100b) about the middos of various animals. Chazal there declare that if the Torah had not been given, we would have learned tznius from a cat and sundry good middos from other creatures. The ant is singled out for the wonderful trait of honesty, since it does not steal from its friend on the farm or hill. Yet, it seems strange that the Gemara does not cite the ant’s zerizus, as Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 6:6) does when he tells us, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; see its ways and grow wise.” It is clear, therefore, that not only does the ant represent integrity, but it instinctively mirrors some higher behavior, which Shlomo Hamelech wants us all to emulate. What exactly is this zerizus and how does it relate to Parshas Hachodesh and Pesach?

Rav Hutner explains, based upon the Maharal, that since mitzvos are our ultimate connection to Hashem, Who is eternal, it should take virtually no time to perform a mitzvah, since time constitutes a physical limitation upon a spiritual action. However, since we are, after all, human and limited, we must perform the mitzvah in “real time,” but we must use as little as possible in order to preserve the “above time” aspect of this sacred moment. Ever since receiving the Torah, with all its uplifting mitzvos, we have striven to connect with eternity and the Eternal One every time we fulfill His will. That is the source of the higher zerizus, the one we apply to each mitzvah because we seek and yearn to be unfettered by any corporeal limitations. If so, you may ask, what of our little teacher, the ant? Does it really have any of these lofty expectations?

The answer is that it most certainly does. Chazal (Devorim Rabbah 5:2) tell us that the average ant “lives but 6 months and consumes only a total of one and a half kernels of wheat during that time. Yet, it amasses the equivalent of many tons of grain.” In effect, the ant, too, functions as if it is eternal. It carries no time limitations upon its frail little body, pushing on as if it will live forever. Its zerizus is the inspiration for our own. Time-limited creatures though we are, we are enjoined to think nitzchiyus, eternal life, not the narrow-minded spiritually meager lives most people lead.

For this reason, the Gemara which teaches us what traits we could have learned from various animals does not mention the zerizus of the ant. Its higher zerizus only came into being after the creation of Am Yisroel, so all that the Gemara could derive from it without the Torah was its integrity. Now that we have received the Torah, however, we can watch the hard-working ant pile up wheat for what seems to be an eternity and we smile knowing that we, too, have been granted eternal life through the Torah.

Rav Hutner concludes by pointing out the poetry and beauty of Chazal’s words. Dovid Hamelech says (Tehillim 48:15) in a passage we regularly recite, “For this is G-d our G-d, forever and ever, He will guide us al mus (forever).” The literal translation of the words al mus means “above death,” but Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 11:9) interpret them to mean with zerizus, for “when the middah of netzach (eternality) functions in the realm of Time, it produces zerizus.” We may perhaps be so bold as to add to Rav Hutner’s profound words that since we were created as a nation on Pesach, it is only proper that we did our part by reaching for the nitzchiyus we were granted from the very beginning.

Rav Avrohom Elimelech Biderman (Be’er Hachaim, Parshas Hachodesh, page 349) sees in this week’s extra laining the power of Jewish renewal and survival through the ages. He quotes the Chiddushei Harim (Likkutei Harim, Parshas Bo), who says that tremendous power is given to each of us (see Shemos Rabbah 15:2) through Parshas Hachodesh. Even if a Yid feels that all is lost spiritually, he can be reinvigorated as if he was reborn pure and pristine.

The Bais Avrohom (Shabbos Hagadol) echoes this theme by pointing out that Parshas Hachodesh “was given while we were still in Mitzrayim, sunken in the 49th level of defilement, yet we immediately undertook to serve Hashem on the highest of levels. We, too, should take heart and never give up on attaining rejuvenation and absolute change.”

This too, flows from the great power of Pesach zerizus to borrow from our connection to eternity. Our yearning for greatness and total renewal catapults us to the point where we are worthy of receiving the Torah, for which we left Mitzrayim in the first place (Shemos 3:12). Our ability to periodically regenerate our lost greatness flows directly from the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh, which we commemorate this Shabbos. As Rav Hutner put it elsewhere (Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah, page 178), “The creation of Am Yisroel forged a revolution in the heavens themselves. The moon is now the emblem of the triumph of freshness (i.e., months) over stagnation and sameness (i.e., years). Kiddush hachodesh had to be the first mitzvah because at the moment we were created, we also achieved dominion over Time itself.”

But all of this requires preparation on our part. As Rav Gedalyah Schorr zt”l concludes (Ohr Gedalyahu, Parshas Hachodesh, page 120), “We should not rely upon Parshas Hachodesh to achieve this regeneration by itself. We must create the vessels to be able to receive the great gift we are being granted.” To the Sefas Emes (Parshas Hachodesh, page 121, Ohr Etzyon edition), when we achieve this level of renewal, it brings with it the miracles we were privileged to experience at Yetzias Mitzrayim. May we be zocheh to this speedily in our days through the lofty zerizus we gain from Parshas Hachodesh.