In Sedra Bo, we see the unfolding of the last three plagues, the laws of Pesach and the departure from Egypt. In the midst of these dramatic events, I was curious about the insertion of two lines, and how they fitted into the narrative. God said to Moses and Aaron: “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” Embedded in these two cryptic lines is the command to sanctify the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and also to ensure that Pesach always occurs in the spring season.
In essence, in the middle of one of the biggest events in history, Moses is commanded to create a “calendar” – a unique calendar based on both the lunar months and the solar year. In fact, the Jewish calendar is the only calendar based on both the sun and the moon. These two systems (lunar and solar) are not in sync. So, it requires adding an extra month to reconcile the two over a perpetual 19-year cycle. What was so important that it had to be commanded on the eve of leaving Egypt? The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, from the word meitzar, which means “narrow” or “constricted.” In leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were going from narrowness to expansion, from slavery to freedom. The deliverance from Egypt was not just from physical slavery but also from spiritual slavery. Israel is to be freed from all heathen influences and consecrated to the service of God.
One of the hallmarks of being a slave is the inability to control anything, specifically time. When God commanded us to be in charge of publicly announcing the new moon (Rosh Chodesh), we were given the gift of being able to declare and sanctify time itself. And as the Jewish people were coming into their newly liberated status, it was important that they understood that freedom was not the same as a free-for-all, and that expansion and freedom require a balanced approach.
This sedra also includes the command to pass down the story of the redemption from Egypt: “And you shall explain to your son on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt….. You shall keep this ordinance in its season from year to year” (13:8).
This is our Haggadah, the Pesach story – and ultimately the Jewish story.