Nissan: The beginning of the Months

We are all familiar with Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. The commentators write that although New Year is translated as שנה חדשה, the reason our Sages referred to the first of Tishrei as ראש השנה is because the head is the most significant part of the body. For this reason, one must be scrupulous in his or her behavior on this Day of Judgment, as whatever one does on Rosh HaShanah will have an effect for the remainder of the year. As we approach the month of Nissan, which the Torah refers to as ראש חדשים, the beginning of the months, we must wonder what is so important about Nissan that the Torah confers upon this month the same title as our Sages gave to the first day of the year.
The Bais Yisroel provides us with a penetrating insight into the significance of the month of Nissan. The Gemara (Shabbos 147b) states that the famed Rabbi Elazar ben Arach once went to an area which was famed for its wine and baths and he was drawn after the physical pleasures found there. This resulted in him forgetting his learning, and subsequent to this incident, Rabbi Elazar ben Arach said about himself החרש היה לבם, literally translated as “their hearts were hard of hearing.” This rendition was a corruption of the verse in the Torah that states (Shemos 12:2) החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים, this month shall be for you the beginning of the months. What is the connection between the deafness of the heart and the true meaning of this verse? The Bais Yisroel explains that when one approaches something new, he feels freshness in his performance. Apparently, Rabbi Elazar ben Arach forfeited some of that feeling of newness that one normally experiences when studying Torah, and he referred to himself as deaf in the heart. Similarly, the month of Nissan is a time when one should refresh himself, knowing that he is starting anew. We can suggest a corollary to this idea from the Medrash. It is said (Ibid 12:21) משכו וקחו לכם צאן למשפחותיכם ושחטו הפסח, draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families. The Medrash interprets this verse as follows: draw your hands away from idolatry and take for yourselves a sheep for mitzvah. Why was it necessary for the Jewish People to sever their ties with idolatry before partaking in the Korban Pesach, the sacrificial lamb? The explanation for this is that idolatry is referred to in Scripture as ראש, head. When one is even tainted with the sin of idolatry, he becomes arrogant and does not allow HaShem to play a role in his life. The festival of Pesach, writes the Maharal, is symbolized by matzah, which is the bread of freedom, and yet matzah is referred to (Devarim 15:3) as לחם עוני, the bread of affliction or poverty. Matzah consists of water and flour, and a pauper only has literally the shirt on his back. When one is free of all additives, he can truly experience freedom. Arrogance is a burden that a free man cannot afford to live with. When one distances himself from idolatry, i.e. arrogance, then he can begin to take the sheep that is used for a mitzvah. It is noteworthy that the words משכו וקחו אביב, take for yourselves (in the) spring equal in gematria the word ראש (501). We have explained in the past that many aspects of the Pesach Seder contain the number 15, such as the words of קדש ורחץ, the list in דיינו and the gematria of the word אביב. The idea of 15 is that the Mishna (Avos 6:6) states that there are 30 attributes to מלכות, kingship. It follows, then, that 15, which is half of 30, demonstrates that for one to reach the pinnacle in life, he must break himself in half by being humble and contrite. Thus, in the month of Nissan, one should bear in mind the message of משכו וקחו אביב, take for yourselves (in the ) spring, i.e. distance yourself from arrogance and take the character of humility, and then one can come close to taking the sheep that is used for the Korban Pesach, on the Festival of Freedom.

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