Pinchas – Making it Your Mitzvah

Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month, is a special day, or two. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 417) sites the custom for women to refrain from strenuous work, like laundry on Rosh Chodesh. There are those who don’t shave, get haircuts, or cut their nails, based on a decree of Rebbe Yehuda HaChasid. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 419) says there is a mitzvah to enhance one’s meal on Rosh Chodesh. In many high school yeshivos they have a special Rosh Chodesh breakfast. From all this we find that the Jewish people treat the beginning of the month in an extra special manner. 
In fact, according to the Sforno in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas there is a special reason of why this is so. The Torah, discussing the Musaf offering brought for Rosh Chodesh, states: “On your New Moons, you shall bring a burnt offering to Hashem: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs in their first year, unblemished” (Bamidbar 28:11). The Sforno points out “that there used to be a Jewish custom on Rosh Chodesh that made it considered extra holy in some way, as the pasuk in Shmuel Alef (20:19) testifies, ‘Where you hid yourself on the day of the deed.’ This pasuk was referring to the fact that they did not go into work on Rosh Chodesh. This is why the pasuk here associated Rosh Chodesh with the Jews, ‘your head of the months’. We don’t find this by the festivals. It doesn’t say by Shabbos, your Shabbos or by Shavuos, your Day of Bikkurim, or by Sukkos, your Sukkos. The reason for this custom is because it would seem that the success of the Jewish people in this world is in some way similar to the moon, which by itself does not have light accept from what it gets from something else, i.e. the sun.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Sforno that the concept of treating Rosh Chodesh as a special time or day for the Jewish people is a custom that dates back at least to the times of David and Yonatan, son of King Shaul, which the pasuk in Shmuel was referring to; but most definitely even before that. But what was so special about them not working on Rosh Chodesh? They didn’t work on the festivals and Shabbos either, as Hashem commanded, and doesn’t Chaza”l say greater is one who is commanded to do something and fulfills the command then one who is not commanded? Furthermore, we see throughout history how each Yom Tov was treated with extra care, with people going out of their way to get the best lulav and esrog set, beautifying their Sukkah, having elaborate seders on Pesach, etc. etc. So why in fact is Rosh Chodesh so special that Hashem and His Torah, which is not time-bound, foresaw that the Jewish People would decide not to work on Rosh Chodesh and treat it as a special day, any more than Shabbos and all the  Yom Tovim, so that the Torah calls it “Your New Months”?

It is true that one who performs mitzvos because Hashem commanded him to is better than one who voluntarily performs mitzvos, because the one commanded is showing more dedication in following what he was told to do. However, that is not in contradiction with this, because no one was commanded to do anything by Rosh chodesh besides bring a Mussaf sacrifice. Hashem foresaw that because they all personally related to this time and made it very special for themselves to the extent that they chose to take a day or two off from work, depending on how many days Rosh Chodesh was that month and they made it festive and even sang partial Hallel to Hashem then they owned it and it’s  called ראשי חדשיכם, “your New Months” in the Torah.

We can glean from here a very important lesson, for Klal Yisrael as a whole was commended for taking to heart and treating with extra care the time of Rosh Chodesh. It makes sense that on a personal level, of course everyone should treat all mitzvos with the utmost importance and beautify them, but an individual has the ability and should try to find one mitzvah which he can relate to more than any other and make it his, own, make that mitzvah extra extra special, then it will be yours! 

(Parenthetically, in many editions of the Sforno this text is found as a reason why the Jews related personally to Rosh Chodesh more than any other time: “Although prior to the sin of the golden calf the Jewish people’s fate was totally independent of any foreign domination, described as חרות על הלוחות, a kind of absolute independence, freedom engraved on the Tablets (the first set no doubt), (compare Exodus 32,16) as well as Eyruvin 54 and Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 16), once they had sinned they (divested themselves of this privilege, (and) no longer made use of this “Royal crown” at all times as did the other nations, so that they did no longer appear to enjoy this advantage over the other nations of the world.
Ever since that spiritual disaster, the Jewish people could enjoy their original privilege of independence from the restrictions imposed by the fact that one is part of the “laws of nature” only on rare occasions in their history, whereas most of the time they were dependent on “light”, i.e. good fortune, from external sources not under their control. To that extent, their history reflects the situation of the moon with its periods of ascent and decline month after month. When the moon is not directly exposed to the light of the sun it becomes invisible. The expression אין מזל לישראל, (Shabbat 126) means that the Jewish people do not generate light of their own, do not work at being masters of their own fate, but rely entirely on Hashem to guide their fates. They receive this Divinely emanated light when their deeds are pleasing to Hashem.
This is why in the parlance of our prophets Hashem Himself is referred to as: “אור ישראל” Israel’s source of light. (compare Isaiah 10,16 as well as Psalms 27,1 where David refers to Hashem. as אורי וישעי, “my light and my salvation.”)
Whenever the Jewish people are in a state of sin, their sins act as a barrier between them and their G-D so that they are deprived of their source of light. When Isaiah describes their state of being when sinful, he speaks of their G-D hiding His face from them, as Israel walking in darkness harassed by the gentile nations. (Isaiah 59,2).
Whenever the Jewish people’s fortunes are at low ebb this represents a desecration of Hashem’s name, i.e. His reputation, as the gentiles refer to us sneeringly as עם ה’ אלה “are these the ones who describe themselves as Hashem’s special nation?” We can understand what our sages have said in Gittin 58 that whenever the Jewish people are in trouble, Hashem is automatically forced to share their troubles. Having linked His honor to the honor and glory of the Jewish people, He suffers with us, (allegorically speaking). Whenever we suffer, whenever we are in a state of being oppressed, Hashem is described as saying that “the pirate has attacked Me and you simultaneously.”
Seeing that the sin offering presented on Rosh Chodesh/New Moon’s day is an atonement for the Jewish people who are the cause of preventing the light of the moon to shine, or the reason it shines so weakly when it does shine, the sages in our prayers on that day referred to that sin offering as לכפר בעדם זכרון לכולם יהיו תשועת נפשם מיד שונא, “to obtain atonement for themselves. They were to be a memorial for them all, and a salvation for their soul from the hand of the enemy.” This is the reason that this is the only sin offering described as חטאת לה’, “a sin offering on behalf of Hashem.” Presentation of this offering is also in respect of the damage the sinful behavior of the Jewish people has inflicted on Hashem’s image among the gentile nations.
When we read about the dialogue described between the moon and Hashem in Chulin 60, where Hashem is eventually described as saying to the Jewish people “bring a sin offering on My behalf,” (in expiation for My diminishing the light of the moon) what the sage (Rabbi Shimon ben Pezzi) wanted to explain by putting such strange sounding words in ‘Hashem’s mouth’ is that ultimately the reason why the moon was diminished was because seeing it has a kinship with the Jewish people and they did not always live up to their lofty destiny, the moon [as a celestial representative of Hashem Himself, Ed.] therefore has to suffer alongside with them for their shortcomings. Seeing this may not sound quite fair, Hashem allegorically ordered a sin offering to be brought by the Jewish people on Rosh Chodesh/New Moon’s day in order appease the moon.)”