"In the first month of the second year on the first of the month the tabernacle was erected" (40:2).
Sefer Shemot , the Book of Exodus, concludes with an account of the building of the mishkan . As Nachmanides points out, the mishkan was the culmination of the exodus, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham to make his descendants "into a great nation" (Genesis 12:1). This meant physical freedom and independence, but more important, the covenant of Sinai and the building of a symbolic resting place for the Divine presence; i.e., the mishkan .
It was exactly one year earlier, on the first of Nissan, that "G-d said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt : this month shall be the head month to you; it shall be the first month of the year" (12:1). The physical liberation and the opening of our spiritual home both began on the same calendar date, Rosh Chodesh Nissan , the first day of the year. The laws of the paschal lamb, ridding oneself of chametz , the obligation to eat matza, all follow on the heels of the mitzvah of the establishment of the calendar.
In all of these mitzvoth, timing plays a crucial role. While eating of the paschal lamb is the most important positive mitzvah in the Torah--failure to eat it during temple times incurred the penalty of karet (excision)--one was forbidden to "leave any of it over until morning". The only difference between chametz and matza, between the fulfillment of a positive mitzvah and incurring the penalty of karet , is one of timing. By definition, chametz and matza must have the same ingredients. The same ingredients, but different preparation times. In fact redemption itself is time sensitive. Those who did not leave Egypt immediately following the tenth plague--up to 80% of the Jewish people, according to the Midrash --were forever lost to the Jewish people. The window of opportunity was quite short, as within three days Pharaoh had changed his mind. Timing is everything, and not only in the stock market.
We can only wonder how different the state of Israel might be today if a million North American Jews had heard the knock of G-d in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. Imagine what could have been had the religious leadership of Europe encouraged people to move to America (or better, Israel ) in the days before World War II. How many lives would have been saved? Alas, the time for redemption came and went, and no one noticed until it was too late.
The building of the mishkan is similarly "a time-bound mitzvah". According to Rashi, the command to construct the tabernacle was a direct result of the sin of the golden calf, a sin caused by the impatience of the Jewish people. "The people began to realize that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain" (32:2). Had they waited one more day this terrible tragedy could have been averted. Instead of Divine revelation, they had idolatry, and all because of a few hours.
Although the mishkan was dedicated on the first of Nissan, our sages tell us that its construction was actually completed over three months earlier, on the 25th day of Kislev, a harbinger to the holiday of Chanuka. In order to atone for the chet haegel, the Jews had to learn the virtue of patience, waiting over three months to dedicate the completed mishkan . Doing something too soon can be just as dangerous as waiting too long.
Any one of us can easily fall prey to doing the right thing at the wrong time. Waiting too long to apologize, spending more time at home just as the kids are starting to move out, taking on religious stringencies before one is ready, even davening shacharit before dawn. We must learn to sanctify time by using it appropriately. It is the pathway to redemption.