It’s one of the most classic Torah trivia questions: What is the first Mitzvah in the Torah? The answer, for all you Torah Bowl fans, is the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, blessing and inaugurating the new month, given in this week’s parsha – HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chadashim (12:2). Perhaps the better question, however, is not what the first Mitzvah is, but why Rosh Chodesh is the first Mitzvah, and why it is commanded now, shortly before Yetzias Mitzrayim, rather than just at Har Sinai with the other six hundred and twelve.
Regarding why the Mitzvah is given before Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Sefer HaChinuch (4:1) explains that through sanctifying the new moon and confirming the first day of the month, the Jewish people were able to determine the dates of all of the Chagim based on knowing when the first of the month fell out. This was essential now, as they are leaving Egypt, in order to know the dates for what would eventually be the holiday of Pesach, occurring fourteen and a half days from the moment Hashem tells Moshe, “HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chadashim.”
While illuminating, this does not fully answer why Rosh Chodesh is the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people, and furthermore, it is strange that Hashem says, “HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem,” this month is for you the first of the months - what is the word “lachem” adding to our understanding?
The Sforno elucidates a fascinating explanation that taps into a fundamental psychological phenomenon and critical element of Jewish life. The Sforno explains that the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh is given to Klal Yisrael now, as they are about to leave Egypt, and it is commanded using the words “HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem,” because while enslaved in Egypt, the Jews’ time was not their own – a slave’s time belongs to his master. As free people, however, the Jews would finally have complete control over how they chose to spend their time, and Hashem immediately provided guidelines and opportunities to connect with him through this newfound freedom.
Importantly, this is symbolized though the way in which the new month is sanctified. Each month, it is two individual Jews who see the new sliver of moon and bear witness to the new month beginning, and is the testimony of these Jews that alerts the Beis Din to notify the rest of the nation that Rosh Chodesh has been declared. In this way, the Jewish people themselves reign over our unique calendar, our Jewish time. As slaves, a Jew could not choose to spend his time in holy or mundane pursuits; he simply had to abide by the rules of the land, of his Egyptian master. As free people, the Jews suddenly had complete autonomy to use their time however they wished, and Hashem gave them a means of using that freedom, that time, to build meaningful lives filled with Torah observance, dependent upon that first sighting of the new moon each month.
In his seminal work, Alei Shur, Rav Wolbe describes the importance of having a Seder, a set schedule, routine, and order to one’s day and life, with time set aside for different pursuits and values. Being a master of your own time is not only a privilege of freedom, it is also an incredible gift and tool to help one focus on important goals and values and increases your chances of growing and achieving across different areas of your life.
Time is one of the most valuable gifts that any human being possesses, and how one uses and allocates one’s time can be one of the most life-changing choices one makes. It is possible for an entire day, week, or summer vacation to go by, and to turn around and marvel at how little you accomplished of the things you’d hoped to do. And it is also possible to take advantage of seemingly fleeting moments, a car ride, a five second pause before saying a Bracha, the 25-hour respite of Shabbos, one year of school, seminary, work, or marriage, to completely elevate and change one’s life for the better.
For all of us, our time is measured, and only marginally in our control. At the same time, however, making a schedule, planning how we will fit all our many priorities and values into our day or week, setting aside time for learning, Davening, self-reflection, or nurturing our relationships, is critical to the successful integration of those values into our daily lives. Each month, we experience the renewal of time and the power of being granted more of it through celebrating Rosh Chodesh, as we did this week. Each week, this occurs on a micro level, with each of the six days of the week counting up to Shabbos. Each morning, awaken anew with a sense of purpose, a recognition of the limited amount of time you have, and a determination to make maximum use of it.
This week, consider a way in which you can become a master over your time. Make a list of things you want to accomplish, prioritize those tasks or goals, take a bird’s eye view at your week and consider how you might make time for those things. With proper focus and organization, you will find that you can suddenly do much more than you thought you could; it is simply a matter of time.