On this coming Shabbat we will be reading the Torah from three separate Torah scrolls – a rare occurrence in our ritual Torah reading. The first Torah scroll will be for reading the weekly Torah portion,Vayikra, the second for the special reading forRosh Chodesh, the new Jewish month of Nissan that falls on Shabbat and the third, for the reading ofParashat Hachodesh, read once a year on or prior to the first day of the new month of Nissan.
Rashi explains that even before the Jewish People left Egypt, G-d showed Moses an image of the new moon, explaining that upon the sighting of the new moon in the sky, the new month is declared and sanctified. From that moment, the Nation of Israel became a nation that operates outside the dimension of time. We are not servants of time; on the contrary, we determine time. And true to form, those who search for proof of the existence of the Creator find it first and foremost in the meta-historical existence of the Nation of Israel; an existence that runs against all natural and historical odds.
“Why didn’t the Torah open with the first commandment to sanctify the months?” Rashi asks on the very first verse in the Torah. After all, the main focus of Torah is the commandments. Rashi answers that the first verse of the Torah, “In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the earth,” is the basis for our right to the Land of Israel. But why couldn’t the Torah, as the guidebook of the commandments, open with the first commandment, and then follow with our right to the Land of Israel at some later point?
The above-time status of the Nation of Israel is essential and deep, but it cannot manifest without the Land of Israel. In order to sanctify the new month, the witnesses were required to travel to the court on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the Land of Israel. Only there would the new month be declared. The Talmud teaches us that no rabbinical court outside the Land of Israel can sanctify the new month. All the yeshivas in Sura and Pumbedita, in Warsaw and in Vilna, in New York and London cannot help. However, the Talmud continues, three of the simplest herdsmen in the Land of Israel can gather as a court of Jewish law on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and sanctify the new month.
In his commentary on the first verse of the Torah, Rashi was not explaining why the Land of Israel was first instead of the commandment to sanctify the new month. He was explaining why we need the Land of Israel at all. He was teaching us that the Land of Israel is the platform for the commandment to sanctify the month – and all the other commandments, as well. Outside the Land, the commandments are nothing more than faint shadows of the full spectrum of Jewish life meant to be lived according to the Torah in the Land of Israel.