“This month shall be for you the first of months”. This is the way the special Torah reading for this Shabbat begins. With Rosh Hodesh (“the head of the month”) tomorrow begins the first Jewish month, Nisan.
If so, why is it that, even though the Torah clearly indicates that the High Holy Days are observed in the seventh month, we wish each other a happy new year at Rosh HaShanah, called “the head of the year”?
The answer illuminates the development of Jewish identity from antiquity. Once, we were farmers and herders, and the beginning of spring was literally the time of all things new – baby lambs and goats, new growth in field and tree. It was the natural rhythm of our relationship with G*d, and it echoed through all our acts as we excitedly, and worriedly, moved through this most vitally important of seasons to one’s physical life and well-being. With the growth of each healthy new plant and animal our own future seemed more assured.
As a result of the industrial revolution, of modernity and urbanization, many of us have to “go out” in order to connect with that most fundamental level of nature, of baby lambs now found in petting farms and new shoots in a community garden or on a window sill. It’s no less profoundly true that G*d is found in nature, just that we seek G*d less in the Great Outdoors and more in the Mysterious Inner Depths of our own being, and in our relationships with others.
We struggle to nurture a garden of morals, rather than (sorry) morels. And so the seventh month, with its Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, have become our moment for taking stock, turning a new leaf (even if only metaphorically), and starting over.
But this month of Nisan is still called “first”. Note what we are commanded: “this shall be for you the first of months.” Perhaps the buried hint is that each of us, for ourselves, can still relate to this time of new growth as a time that encourages new hope. And from that thought, of course, we move to the teaching of our embracing, loving tradition – that every month, every day, every moment can be for you the first of months.
What “first” needs your nurturing right now? what small green shoot of promise is there for you, simply awaiting your deeper gaze into its true potential?