Parashat Bo: The Lesson of the Moon
We read in Parashat Bo the first Misva given to Beneh Yisrael as a nation – the Misva of “Ha’hodesh Ha’zeh Lachem Rosh Hodashim” (12:2). This Misva requires us to establish the Jewish calendar according to the lunar cycle, meaning, the revolution of the moon around the earth, which occurs approximately every 28.5 days. The Jewish year is defined by twelve lunar cycles, as opposed to most other nations, which base their calendar upon the 365-day revolution of the earth around the sun. Before Beneh Yisrael left Egypt, G-d commanded that they should declare new months based upon the sighting of the new moon, and this is the basis upon which the Jewish calendar is arranged.
This command is followed by a series of laws relevant to the Korban Pesah, the paschal offering which Beneh Yisrael brought on the night they left Egypt. These include the requirements to undergo Berit Mila before performing the sacrifice, to slaughter a sheep, to place the blood on the doorpost, and to partake of the meat inside the home without leaving the home throughout the night. It also included a prohibition against sharing the sacrifice with non-Jews.
One might wonder, what is the connection between these laws and the Misva of the Jewish calendar? Why does G-d introduce the laws of the Korban Pesah with the command to establish a lunar-based calendar?
Rav Shemuel Salant (Jerusalem, 1816-1909), in his Be’er Yosef, explains that the lunar calendar system conveys a vital lesson for Beneh Yisrael. The moon becomes visible only when it is at a distance from the sun. During the daytime, when the moon is near the sun in the sky, it is overwhelmed by the light of the sun and cannot be seen. It is only when the sun sets and the moon is separate from the sun that it retains its identity and can be identified by people here on Earth.
The same is true with the Jewish people. Just as the moon is minuscule in relation to the sun, we constitute but a tiny percentage of the world population. And just as the moon loses its identity when it comes close to the sun, we become absorbed by the rest of mankind when we draw too close to the non-Jewish world. Although we engage in the general world, we must ensure to remain separate and apart in order that we retain our unique identity and our loyalty to our special mission. If we become too much a part of general society, we cannot be “seen”; we just blend in and are no longer discernible as Jews.
The laws of the Korban Pesah were intended, at least in part, to separate Beneh Yisrael from the Egyptian society in which they lived. As our Sages teach, Beneh Yisrael became entrenched in Egyptian culture and worshipped idols. They were therefore commanded to publicly slaughter the sheep, the Egyptian deity, and place its blood on their doorposts as a symbol of their firm repudiation of this pagan belief. And they were commanded to undergo Berit Mila, so they would be physically different from the people of Egypt, and to remain indoors throughout the night without including any Egyptians in their feast. All this was meant to establish our nation’s separate and distinct status, to draw the “moon” away from the “sun,” so-to-speak, so the Jewish nation could come into existence and step onto the stage of history.
This is the connection between the lunar calendar and the Korban Pesah, as both relate to this theme of separation and retaining our national identity. Together, these laws remind us of the importance of remaining separate, that even as we involve ourselves in general society, we must not draw so close that we lose our uniqueness and distinct status.