Va-Yakhel and Pekudei
For the week of March 13, 1999 / 25 Adar 5759
Shemot / Exodus 35:1-38:20 and Exodus 38:21-40:38
Hahodesh: Shemot Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: I Kings 7:51-8:21
Replaced by: Ezekiel 45:16-46
Happy New Year!
"This month is to be for you
the first month, the first month of your year"
The Jewish calendar is based on a monthly lunar cycle and a solar year. Each month is either 29 or 30 days long. The way the lunar and solar cycles are synchronized is by the inclusion of an extra month 7 times every 19 years. Therefore some years have 12 months, the others have 13. The extra months occur in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The extra month, when it occurs, is known as Adar II and follows the normal month of Adar, which corresponds to February or March of the Gregorian calendar.
The Torah portions we follow each week are sufficient to cover a full Jewish year of 13 months. As a result some of the weeks during the shorter years have double portions. When the double portions are read, the Haftarah is the one corresponding to the second of the two.
Throughout the year there are special Haftarah readings for certain Sabbaths depending on special events of that particular week.
This coming Sabbath has a special reading in honor of the first month of the year (beginning this year on Thursday, March 18, 1999). In Exodus chapter 12, we read, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year" (Shemot / Exodus 12:2). This month, which became known as the month of Nisan (see Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7), was designated by God as the first month of the year.
Most people regard the beginning of the Jewish year as being in the fall, not the spring. The holy days of Rosh Hashanah (called the Feast of Trumpets in the Torah), came to be recognized as the New Year. Jewish society came to observe several "New Years," Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the civil year, while the month of Nisan marked the beginning of the religious year.
And yet, it was only concerning this month of Nissan that God said, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year."
Tradition has emphasized the one in the fall to the neglect of the biblical one. Why God designated Nisan as the beginning of the year is clear. This is the time that the people of Israel were released from captivity in Egypt. For all intents and purposes this is when the life of the nation really started. Egypt was the place of oppression. The month of Nisan is the anniversary of freedom. It is like a birthday. Life for Israel started in Nisan.
This is in contrast to what the Holy Days in the fall represent. Though not originally intended this way, the High Holiday time is full of religious activity and achievements. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot are about all sorts of things we need to do. The time of Passover is a time of celebration. It is all about what God has done for us.
Life begins when God rescues us. Even though we have a history that predates our coming to know God through the Messiah, it wasn't until then that we really began to live. We need to be reminded that life is really about what God has done for us, and not about our own accomplishments.
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