Judaism places great emphasis on the proper use of time. For serious students there is practically no greater sin than that of Bitul Torah - the wasting of precious time that could be devoted to Torah study. We know that successful people have effective time management techniques balancing the need to study, earn a living and spend time with their families. It should therefore come as no surprise that the first mitzva given to the Jewish people concerns the fixing of the Jewish calendar. To the slave, time had little relevance. Another day just meant more of the same work with no goals to look forward to. To the free man time represents opportunity.
Interestingly the Jewish calendar works on both a lunar and solar cycle. Our months follow the lunar cycle while our years follow the solar cycle. The 11 day discrepancy between the 2 cycles - which if allowed to continue would eventually lead to Pessach being celebrated in the winter - is rectified by having an extra month 7 out of every 19 years.
Why is it that our calendar follows both the sun and the moon? Would it not be simpler to follow a solar cycle? Our sages have found similarities between the Jewish people and the moon. The moon ranges from being completely invisible to being fully visible. We Jews have had periods when our strength has been visible to all and periods where our presence has been eclipsed. Whereas the Holocaust represents the period of an invisible moon, with the creation of the State of Israel the moon became visible again. It is interesting to note that many of our holidays - from Pessach, Sukkot, Purim to Tu B'shvat and Tu B'av - fall in the middle of the month when the moon is at its fullest. Just like the hidden moon is always followed by the appearance of the full moon, so periods of tragedy in Jewish history are and will always be followed by periods of glory for the Jewish people.
In Jewish thought the moon is seen as incomplete; a fate which befell it due to its jealousy. The Midrash teaches that the sun and the moon were created equal in size. When the moon complained about sharing its glory with the sun it was "punished" by being made smaller, and instead of emanating its own light it reflects the light of the sun. What is the Midrash driving at? The world can not be properly built if jealousy and the drive for power are rampant. It was Cain's jealousy of Abel which led to murder so soon after creation. Every month, after the appearance of the new moon we say a special prayer known as Kiddush Levana (the sanctification of the moon). In this prayer we ask G-d to heal the "wounded" moon. Of course this wound was of its own making. This serves as a reminder to us that building a community requires that petty power struggles and jealousy be put aside. The Jews were about to embark on their mission to create a community dedicated to the service of G-d and man. In order to do so properly, we must remember the lessons from the moon.
Rav Soloveitchik often pointed out that the Jew lives in two worlds simultaneously. We are part of the global village with similar concerns and aspirations as our non Jewish neighbours. Disease, war and peace and scientific discovery are issues that should concern us as Jews. We are enjoined to be loyal to our government and its institutions. On the other hand Judaism espouses a unique way of life with its myriad of rituals, rules, observances and theological beliefs which sets us apart from the world around us.
This dual existence is reflected in our calendar. Jewish history began during the month of Nissan in the spring with the exodus from Egypt . The Hebrew word for month is Chodesh which means renewal symbolising the constant renewal and march forward of the Jewish people despite all of our historical setbacks. We do however commemorate the creation of the world at large by celebrating the new year in Tishrei. We must take our rightful place in dealing with issues which confront the world as a whole.
While there is inevitable tension when we fully participate in both worlds our method of dealing with this tension determines whether the Jew has lived up to his obligations in this world. By breaking the shackles of slavery and being effective users of time we can take our rightful place in both the Jewish and general communities. Shabbat Shalom !