When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat, we pre-empt the Haftorah of the Parsha and instead read the last chapter of Yeshayahu, which mentions both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat.
The Haftorah describes a vision of the future, a utopia where all evil has been removed from this world and all of mankind worships G-d. The Haftorah ends this vision with the following verse:
וְהָיָה מִדֵּי חֹדֶשׁ בְּחָדְשׁוֹ וּמִדֵּי שַׁבָּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ יָבוֹא כָל בָּשָׂר לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְפָנַי אָמַר ה’:
It will be, on each new month and on each Shabbat, all mankind will come to bow before Me, said Hashem. (Yeshayahu 66:23)
This verse states that commemorating Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat is key to acknowledging G-d’s dominion over the world. In order to understand this, we need to examine the meaning of Shabbat and the purpose of Rosh Chodesh.
The division of the month into weeks is not a natural one. Unlike years and months, which are based on the cycles of the sun and the moon, the week is a human construct (or rather, one commanded to us by G-d). Counting the days, one through seven, over and over again, is the Torah’s way of getting us to identify with G-d’s role in Creation. By doing so, we testify to G-d being the Source of all that exists. When we emulate G-d by ceasing all creative tasks on Shabbat, we make ourselves His partners in Creation.
What about Rosh Chodesh? The month is a natural phenomenon known to all human beings from the dawn of time. Yet the Torah “gives” it to the Jewish People, and makes it a commandment to declare the new moon and determine the date of Rosh Chodesh. This was originally done through a complicated Halachic process that verified the observation of the new moon in the night sky. This determination was based on human effort, not on objective fact; thus, human error was a real possibility. The pre-calculated calendar that the Jewish People have been using for the last millennium and a half is also a human artifact; it also has the potential for error. Such an error would affect not only Rosh Chodesh itself, but any holidays in that month. Would the Passover Seder be on Monday or on Tuesday night? Friday night or Saturday night? The Jewish People get to make that call. But what if we’re wrong?
רבי קריספא בשם ר’ יוחנן לשעבר אלה מועדי יי’ מיכן ואילך אשר תקראו אותם אמר רבי אילא אם קריתם אותם הם מועדי ואם לאו אינן מועדי
R’ Krispa said in the name of R’ Yochanan: At first it said, “These are the holidays of Hashem,” but then it became, “that you shall declare.” R’ Ilah said, [it is as if G-d said] “If you declare them they are My holidays, if not, they are not My holidays.” (Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 1: 57 b)
Even if our astronomical observations are mistaken, or our calculations incorrect, as far as G-d is concerned, the holidays declared by the Jewish People are the actual holidays. This is key to understanding what G-d wants from His relationship with mankind.
First and foremost, we need to know that G-d is involved in the world. It is hard for us to even fathom the alternative, but there are still religions and philosophies that believe that even if there is a G-d Who created the world, He cannot possibly be involved in running it. He is too transcendent, too abstract, too great, to care about what you and I do or do not eat, what you and I do or do not say, or even whether you and I steal, rape, or murder. The Exodus from Egypt proved otherwise; its purpose, as stated in the Torah in Parshat VaEira, is “that you should know that I am Hashem.” It showed all of mankind that G-d has power over the entire world, that He sees what happens in it, and that their actions matter to Him. That is also the purpose of the holidays that are mentioned in the Midrash above, the “holidays of Hashem.” As “זכר יציאת מצרים” , they commemorate the Exodus, the greatest manifestation of G-d’s intervention in the affairs of mankind.
The Midrash takes this a step further. Not only do we need to know and accept that G-d runs the world, but G-d also wants the Jewish People to be His partners in running the world. He handed over the determination of Rosh Chodesh, and with it, the decision of when to celebrate the holidays, to us. Even though we are fallible human beings, and might get it wrong, He wants us to be involved.
Thus, the commemoration of Rosh Chodesh expresses the idea that G-d continues to renew and maintain the world; He is actively involved in history and our actions matter to Him. Shabbat stands for our assertion that G-d created the world; as Creator, He has the authority to command us. Without accepting both of these fundamental beliefs about G-d, the world cannot reach the utopia described in Yeshayahu. It is the mission of the Jewish People to share this understanding with the world, and one of the ways that we accomplish this is through our calendar.
The conjunction of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh reminds us that we are G-d’s partners in perfecting Creation, and in bringing about its ultimate destiny as described in the Haftarah of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, a world where evil has been vanquished and only good remains.
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל