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Chodesh Nisan (about the new month)

There is a lot about the month of Nisan which applies to our current circumstance and I’d like to elaborate a bit on how recognizing our historical past can help us all through this time of isolation.

Nisan, the first month on Jewish calendar (according to the Torah), coincides with March-April on the civil calendar. The Torah calls it chodesh ha-aviv—the month of spring, as it marks the beginning of the spring months.

On the first day of Nisan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), two weeks before the Exodus, G‑d showed Moses the crescent new moon, instructing him regarding the setting of the Jewish calendar and the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month. “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2). This ushered in the first Jewish month and commenced the lunar calendar that Jews have been following ever since. It was the first mitzvah (“commandment”) given to the newly born nation of Israel (even before the exodus from Egypt) and the basis of Rosh Chodesh.

As we transition into Nisan, emerge from winter and welcome Spring, there is a lot of newness (new routines, new challenges, new opportunities) in our lives as we adapt to home isolation. And to that I find we must reflect, as we approach Passover, that this adaptation in our lives is due to a “plague” and that there are people actually dealing with “swarms of locusts”. Ironic, eh?!? What does that mean to us? Can we see how our current political and global climate might warrant a warning? What might “we” as a global society need to be aware of? How could any of this possibly relate to the season that we are entering? These are questions that I find myself asking as we transition from Winter to Spring, Adar to Nisan, busy & distracted lives to a time in which we are brought back to what actually matters, and a time when although still segregated by many things WE are pulling together as ONE in many ways! It is warming to the heart to see how quickly all communities have pulled together finding solutions to get us through this time, but also, I am glad that instead of focusing on the negative, people are finding the “light” in every moment.

As we use this time to reflect, adapt to and re-evaluate this new routine, we will also be removing all leaven from our possession and finding new ways to celebrate Passover, commemorating Jewish people’s miraculous redemption from slavery in Egypt, and the birth of the Jewish nation. We will be eating matzah and telling the story of the redemption to our children. By following the rituals of Passover, we have the ability to relive and experience the true spiritual freedom that our ancestors achieved. This year however, we will all be able to relate just a bit more.

In the spirit of self-reflection and evaluation, as we count the Omer, the 49 days that connect Passover with Shavuot, let us also reflect on how to correspond to the 49 drives and traits of the human heart. Each day saw the refinement of one of these sefirot (“traits”), bringing the people of Israel one step closer to spiritual perfection. Each year, we retrace this inner journey by counting of the Omer. Beginning on the second night of Passover, we count the days and weeks to the holiday of Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks.” Inner reflection is something that I think we all need, that this isolation will allow, and our tradition can provide to us.

In the meantime, we can also perform a special mitzvah which can be fulfilled only once a year—anytime during the month of Nisan—which is to recite the berachah (“blessing” or prayer) made upon seeing a fruit tree in bloom. Many people visit botanical gardens during this time, so as to avail themselves of an opportunity to observe this beautiful mitzvah. Fortunately, even though we are ordered to stay at home (for good reasons of course), we can still say this berachah and we can go out into nature, breathe in the fresh air, and connect to all that REALLY matters.

I pray that this finds you all well and that the month of Nisan is healing and beneficial to all!  ---Kendra

Wed, April 1 2020 7 Nisan 5780