This week’s Parashat is called BO (see Sefer Shemot / Book of Exodus 10:1-13:6).
Previous Torah readings told us about the first seven plagues G-d brought over Egypt. In Parashat BO, the last three plagues are taking place: Locusts, Darkness and the Death of the Firstborn.
The Parasha is teaching us about the last three plagues and is suddenly interrupted. Right in between, the Torah is teaching us about the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh and some Pessach (Passover) laws.
The Hebrew, the word ROSH means HEAD and the word CHODESH stands for MONTH. However, the root of CHODESH is the word CHIDUSH (renewal). Rashi commentates that CHODESH doesn’t necessarily stand for MONTH but for a RENEWAL. With every beginning of a new Jewish month, the Jews have the ability to change, to rise up and restore themselves to their past greatness. Thus, Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new month, has a great significance in Judaism. Furthermore, Rosh Chodesh is the first commandment, the Jewish people received as a nation.
Nevertheless, the RENEWAL is not the only reason why Rosh Chodesh is of such a tremendous importance. Already the Syrian-Greek occupation understood the role of Rosh Chodesh. Celebrating the beginning of a new month according to the Jewish calendar was among the three things, the Syrian-Greeks prohibited. The other two Jewish rites were Brit Milah (circumcision) and Shabbat. The goal of the Gentile occupants was to eradicate Judaism and get every person in the world into Greek idolatry. The ancient Greeks were very much into perfect bodies and they considered a circumcision to be a blemish.
On the other hand, the Syrian-Greeks understood that they can destroy Judaism by they not allowing the Jews to use their calendar, no to celebrate Shabbat and males no having a Brit Milah. This way, the Greeks thought, the Jews would eventually forget their religion but the opposite was the case, as many Jews ignored all those prohibitions.
The Jewish calendar is base on the moon. The time between one new moon and the next is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 and one-third seconds. A month either has 29 or 30 days.
There are 12 months and 354 days in the Jewish calendar. 11 days less than the regular solar calendar. The Torah commands us to always celebrate Pessach in spring and in order to make this possible (with 11 days less), every other year we add another months called ADAR BETH (the second Adar). This year is such a leap year and we have two Adars. Now we are in the month of Shevat and the two Adars will follow Shevat.
Until the destruction of the Second Temple, the new month was always proclaimed by a rabbinic court and two witnesses who saw the new moon. After the destruction of the Second Temple, various Rabbis such as Hillel II. got together and introduced a calendar for all future generations. This happened in 4119 (358-359 C.E.).
But what makes the meaning of Rosh Chodesh and the Jewish calendar so significant?
Because the calendar sets the dates for the Jewish holidays. And without the holidays, there wouldn’t be much Judaism left. This is why our enemies always try to destroy our calendar in order to get us away from G-d and lead us into idolatry.