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nissan 5762

The Month of Nissan - A Unique Possession


Summarized by students

Dedicated to the memory of
R. Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

1. The Jewish People's Unique Possession
2. All Beginnings are Holy
3. Tishrey and Nissan - the Head and the Heart
4. Creation - Theory and Practice
5. Nissan's Closeness to God

The Jewish People's Unique Possession
Rabbi Eliezer says that in the month of Tishrey the universe was created...in the month of Nissan the Jewish People were redeemed from slavery, and in Tishrey they will be redeemed once again. Rabbi Yehoshua contends that in Nissan the universe was created... in Nissan the Jewish People were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed once again.
(Talmud, Rosh HaShannah 10b)

In light of the above it becomes necessary to clarify what exactly it is about these two months - Tishrey and Nissan - that makes them so unique.
Regarding Nissan the Torah states: "This month shall be the headmost of the months for you; for you it is to be the first of the months of the year." With these words the Book of Books begins its account of the Exodus. The Jewish People do not live according to the timetable of the nations; they live according to their own unique calendar. Redemption implies both physical and spiritual emancipation. The month of Nissan, then, constitutes a unique possession of the Jewish People.
Rabbi Yehuda Liva ben Betzalel, "the Maharal of Prague," amplifies this idea by pointing to the fact that this Mitzvah - "This month shall be the headmost of the months for you" - is the first commandment in the Torah incumbent upon the Jews as a nation. The first step in appreciating the Torah as a Divine revelation to the Nation of Israel is understanding that there exists a cycle of time that is unique to the Jewish People.

All Beginnings are Holy
The Hebrew months of Tishrey and Nissan are the most sacred times of the year in the Jewish calendar. The Maharal explains that the month of Nissan resembles the first-born. We see for ourselves that the entire episode of the Exodus from Egypt centers on the first-born - the plague of the first-born; "Sanctify for me every first-born." The first-born possesses Divine sanctification in accordance with a transcendent Heavenly order. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook explains that in the future the service in the Holy Temple will be carried out by Israel's first-born; the sin of the Golden Calf - the transgression that resulted in their being deprived of this distinguished task - will, in the future, be mended. The Nation of Israel as a whole is referred to as "My first-born son." In the plant world, too, the Torah lays special emphasis on first-fruits. Every first contains sanctity. First appearances remain uniquely bound to God.

Tishrey and Nissan - the Head and the Heart

The Maharal explains that just as a body contains organs whose importance outweighs all the rest - the head and the heart - the Jewish calendar contains months whose importance rises above all others. Nissan is the "head" of the months; Tishrey the "heart." The head is the storehouse of thought; the heart, the fountain of life.

The month of Tishrey resembles the intellect. The days of Tishrey are days of judgement, days during which we make a detailed moral accounting of our lives: Have we used our time appropriately? Have we utilize properly our freedom of choice? And just as the intellect - the most spiritual and lofty facet in the human body - is holy, so too the month of Tishrey is holy. Tishrey is the seventh month. It is well known that the number seven is holy. The Midrash teaches: "The number seven was chosen as holy, the holiest of days, the holiest of months, the holiest of years." The holiest of days - Sabbath; the holiest of months - Tishrey; the holiest of years - the sabbatical "Shmittah" year. The month of Tishrey, then, resembling as it does the intellect, possesses a holiness that one might term holiness of the intellect.

The month of Nissan resembles the heart. The heart sustains everything, sending blood to all of the body's organs. Regarding Nissan it is written, "Safeguard the month of spring," for it symbolizes the return of life to the trees after their long winter dormancy. In this month we recite the blessing over the trees. The year is intercalated (by adding a lunar month when necessary) in order to assure that the month of Nissan always falls in the spring.

Creation - Theory and Practice
The Talmud explains that the prayer which we recite on Rosh HaShannah, "Today is the anniversary of the beginning of Your handiwork, a remembrance of the first day," follows the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, i.e. that the universe was created in Tishrey. In this context the Tosafoth ask, "Has it not been established that we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua who held that the universe was created in Nissan?" They then resolve this apparent contradiction by explaining that the aforementioned prayer is about the Day of Judgement and not about the actual day on which the creation of the universe began. At any rate, from the wording of the Tosafoth it becomes clear that we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua - that the universe was created in Nissan. Tosafoth continues by pointing to another apparent contradiction in the liturgical poetry of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, the author of the above Rosh HaShannah prayer. In the prayer for dew that he composed to be recited in the month of Tishrey, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir seems, like Rabbi Eliezer, to hold that the universe was created in the month of Tishrey; Yet in prayers he composed for the month of Nissan, he seems to hold that the universe was created in the month of Nissan, like Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir, "Rabbenu Tam," explains that there is no contradiction here; "Both are the words of the living God." In the month of Tishrey the idea of creating the universe entered God's mind, as it were; in the month of Nissan the universe was actually created. We find a similar phenomenon concerning Adam. Initially God considered creating two people, yet, in the end, He created only one - Adam, the first human.

According to Rabbenu Tam, then, there were two stages in the creation of the universe: The first stage took place in Tishrey - the abstract creation of the universe in the Almighty's lofty inner thoughts, the presence of the universe in potential; the second stage was in Nissan - the actual realization of this potential, the concrete creation of the universe.

Nissan's Closeness to God
Rabbi Eliezer believed that the universe must have been created in the month of Tishrey because of this month's holiness and prominence. He felt that just as the intellect is the most spiritual of the body's facets, so too the month of Tishrey is holy and spiritual and close to the Almighty, and thus a fitting time for the creation of the universe.

Rabbi Yehoshua, on the other hand, believed that the universe must have been created in Nissan, for Nissan is the first of the months of the year. Being the first month it is closer to the ultimate cause, closer to that heavenly source that lies above and beyond time. This is the nature of Nissan's unique holiness - a holiness by virtue of which it is closely bound to the Almighty. Nissan is separate and distinct from the rest of the months of the year. Compared to Nissan the rest of the months represent ordinary mundane existence. True, we count the years since creation from Tishrey, but from the deeper perspective of the Nation of Israel the year begins in Nissan. That is, the true point of connection, the true bond between the new year and its Divine source is in Nissan. From the human perspective, a Jew is capable of sanctifying himself at any time through the study of Torah, self sacrifice, etc. But from the loftier perspective of Divine affinity and willingness, Nissan is the choicest time of year for approaching and cleaving to God. That is, the possibility of our clinging to God is greater in Nissan than in any other month of the year.

The word "Nissan" can be understood in Hebrew to mean "our miracles." Because of its unique holiness Nissan is a perfect time for overt miracles. This is because, as we have noted, Nissan constitutes a bond, as it were, between time-bound existence and the realm that transcends time. Throughout history many miracles have taken place in this month. Even the bread that we eat in Nissan - Matzah - is Holy. Matzah contains none of the leaven that represents the evil inclination. It is bread that possesses Divine holiness. It is impossible to subsist without bread, but in Nissan the bread is Divine. The difference between ordinary leavened bread and Matzah is the amount of time involved in its preparation. Once again we see that the month of Nissan constitutes the height of attachment between natural existence and the Divine source. Therefore it is singled out as a time of redemption - "In Nissan the Jewish People were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed once again" - speedily in our days, Amen.

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Glossary:
Talmud - The voluminous embodiment of the Oral Torah. Basis of Jewish law and philosophy.
Torah - the Five Books of Moses.
Mitzvah (pl. Mitzvoth) - commandment/s.
Tosafoth - A collection of teachings that subjects the Talmud to its very own method. It is printed on the page of the Talmud itself.



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