Pinchas – Enjoying the Important Lessons in Life

We read sections of this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas throughout the year as maftir of Yomim Tovim and on every Rosh Chodesh, discussing the Musaf offerings brought on every special occasion. For Rosh Chodesh the Torah begins: “And the head of your months, you shall bring a burnt offering to Hashem…” (Bamidbar 25:11).
The Sforno teaches us that it was a custom amongst the Jews to observe Rosh Chodesh as a semi-holy day as testified in the Navi: “Where you hid yourself on the day of the action…” (Shmuel Alef 20:19). This pasuk implies in context that Rosh Chodesh was not a day of work for them. Hence, this day is associated with the Jews as it says: “the head of your new months,” an expression not found by the other special days. It is not written regarding Shabbos, ‘your Shabbos,’ nor regarding Shavuos, ‘your Day of Bikurim,’ or by Sukkos, ‘your Sukkos’. The reason for their custom (not to work on Rosh Chodesh) was because the success of the Jewish people in this world is slightly similar to the cycle of the moon, in that it doesn’t have any light of its own besides what it gets from the sun. (Click here for Hebrew text long version of Sforno)
Today, the Shulchan Aruch says it is a good custom for women not to do any work on Rosh Chodesh, and there is a mitzvah to have extra food at one’s meal for Rosh Chodesh (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 217 and 219). In fact, the Mishna Berura quotes a Medrish Pesikta d’Rav Kahana which says that all of one’s money for the year is set from Rosh HaShanah to Rosh Hashana, besides what is spent on food for Rosh Chodesh, Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol HaMoed, and extra bonuses or tips that one gives out to children’s rebbeim. However, it seems that in the time of the Book of Shmuel, and possibly before and after, there was a custom for no one to work on Rosh Chodesh, in order to recognize and appreciate the lesson of the day, which is that our destiny and success do not rely on our own mazel (astrology and constellations). Rather, we live our lives above what is predicted by astrology, and rely on Hashem for our light and guidance – just as the moon relies on the sun to give off light. (There are different editions of the Sforno, which elaborate in more detail about the issue on this pasuk.)

The question one can ask is: why was there a need to create a new custom in order to remind us of the lesson of Rosh Chodesh? Isn’t it enough that the Torah calls it “your new month,” and that we read it often, in order to remind us of the lesson of Rosh Chodesh?

We see from here the importance of commemorating or celebrating the lessons that affect our lives. In this way one doesn’t just know them, but rather inculcates them into their very being. One then feels energized to follow through with those lessons, and live by them.

I believe the reason why the lesson of Rosh Chodesh is emphasized above all the other lessons of the Yom Tovim is because the lesson of Rosh Chodesh puts into action all the other lessons of the Yom Tovim. Meaning, the belief that Hashem took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, created the world, and is constantly protecting us, is reinforced and put into action with the lesson that we have to live our lives in total reliance on Hashem, assuming that nothing can be predicted as perceived.

I remember my high school days with the special Rosh Chodesh breakfasts, dancing, singing and guest speakers. Those times made a special impression on the students. It was a time to bond with our rebbeim and classmates, and a time of inspiration, to energize us for the coming month.

One does not have to have a lavish Rosh Chodesh breakfast; but to at least get an extra treat to add onto a meal, or at any point during the day, can be a trigger to remind us of the lesson that we are totally dependent on Hashem, which in turn will give us a positive impetus to live our lives in that manner.