A Jew’s service to G‑d must always be performed in a completely new manner, totally eclipsing past achievements. Such service is possible when a Jew “leaps” out of his egocentric existence and, surrendering himself to G‑d, rises above the constraints of his own nature.
Parshas HaChodesh is the section in Torah relating the command to the Jews in Egypt to prepare the Pesach offering, and its accompanying laws. This section also mentions that the month of Nissan shall be the head of months, a command to keep a calendar. Because of these two concepts, Parshas HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This Shabbos is therefore termed Shabbos Parshas HaChodesh.
First mitzvah is prototype of Torah
The command that Nissan shall be the first month — “This month shall be the head of months for you; it shall be the first of the months of the year” — was the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people. Indeed, the Midrash notes that if not for the necessity to establish G‑d’s ownership of the entire earth and His subsequent right to give Eretz Yisroel to the Jews, the Torah would not have begun with the account of creation but with the first mitzvah.
The first mitzvah in the Torah is the basis and prototype of all mitzvos. Our Sages, on the verse, “This month...shall be the head of the months,” state: “When G‑d chose His world, He established therein Roshei Chodoshim and years; and when He chose Yaakov and his sons, He established the month of redemption in which Jews were redeemed from Egypt and in which they are destined to be redeemed again.” Yaakov and his sons — the Jewish people — were chosen by G‑d to fulfill His mission in creation, which is to bring redemption to the world.
Revealing G‑dliness in the world
What does it mean to bring redemption to the world? World in Hebrew is olam, which is cognate to the word helem, concealment. G‑dliness is concealed in the world, obscured by nature. The world is in exile, shackled by the innate limitations of its finite nature. Even when one recognizes that G‑d is Creator and ruler of the universe, that recognition is circumscribed to the extent that one can discern G‑d’s presence in it.
Through observing Torah and mitzvos a Jew brings redemption to the world: The veils of nature are lifted, and the innate limitations are overcome. The world has been redeemed from its exile.
The service of redeeming the world is itself performed in a manner of redemption. A Jew must feel that he is redeemed, free of the restrictions and concealments that seem to be an inherent part of the world. A Jew can, and must, transcend these limits and nothing may prevent him from observing Torah and mitzvos.
In a deeper sense, a Jew must free himself of the limits of his own nature. Service to G‑d comprises many aspects, and a person, by his nature, finds more satisfaction in some areas than in others. Moreover, the enthusiasm he invests in those areas in which he does find satisfaction is limited to his natural inclination. A Jew must therefore free himself of his own nature and perform all mitzvos with unlimited enthusiasm.
This enthusiasm and life comes from the soul, which is not fettered by the restrictions of one’s nature.
That is why the first mitzvah in Torah — “This month shall be the head of months for you” — is the prototype of all mitzvos. Just as the month of Nissan was selected as the month of redemption, so all mitzvos are the means wherewith a Jew redeems himself and the world and introduces the light of G‑dliness into previous darkness.
Performing mitzvos with unbounded enthusiasm is alluded to in the very name of the parshah — HaChodesh. Chodesh is cognate to the word chidush, which means new. Although Torah and mitzvos must be observed daily, they should not be done routinely but instead, “everyday they should be new in your eyes.” Mitzvos must be fulfilled enthusiastically and sincerely.
This lesson is emphasized by Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which marks the beginning of the new year for the congregational sacrifices offered on behalf of every Jew. From that day on, only sacrifices purchased with the new yearly contributions were offered.
New level of service
Although we cannot now offer sacrifices, service to G‑d, particularly prayer, substitutes for the sacrifices. The month of Nissan signals the beginning of a new, more profound level of service. The reading in the Torah of Parshas HaChodesh — Torah meaning instruction — is the means whereby a Jew receives the ability to carry out this more sublime service.
The above concept is mirrored in the process by which the beginning of a new month is fixed. In the times of the Beis HaMikdosh, Rosh Chodesh was fixed by the sighting of the birth of the new moon. A moment before its birth, the moon was totally hidden, non-existent. Afterwards, it begins to shine anew.
“Israel is like the moon,” our Sages say. Just as the moon is always destined to be renewed, so Jews are destined to be renewed. Rosh Chodesh, the birth of the new moon, represents a new, hereto unattained level of service to G‑d. While the previous month’s service may have been perfect, the new moon teaches that the new month’s achievements should be still better, eclipsing that of the previous month to the extent that compared to the new, the old is non-existent. That is, the new month’s service should totally transcend that of the previous one.
But how can Torah and mitzvos be fulfilled in a completely new manner, when a Jew routinely observes them every day?
The answer comes from the second aspect of Parshas HaChodesh, the Pesach offering. Pesach means “passing over” or “leaping.” A Jew, captive of his personality and innate nature, cannot normally escape performing mitzvos routinely. But when he makes a radical leap out of his egocentric existence, surrendering himself totally to G‑d, he is freed from the constraints of his nature, and he will then have experienced his personal exodus from Egypt. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, cognate to the word metzorim, which means straits and limitations. In a Jew’s spiritual service, exodus from Egypt means he escapes the limitations imposed by his own personality.
G‑dliness preeminent in a Jew’s life
Because Torah and mitzvos are intimately connected with the soul, it is understandable that when engaged in Torah and mitzvos a Jew can escape the body’s restraints. But a Jew’s service is limited not just to Torah and mitzvos. Torah directs that “All your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” and “In all your ways you shall know Him” — “your deeds” and “your ways,” mundane matters, things associated with the body, which also are part of service to G‑d. How can one escape the body’s nature concerning things which belong to the body?
G‑d and Jew are united. G‑dliness is therefore preeminent in a Jew’s life, whereas the material world is important only insofar as Torah grants it status. A Jew deals with the world only because Torah directs him to, and every action of a Jew is therefore a Torah action, with his deeds being for the sake of heaven and knowing G‑d in all his ways. A Jew can rise above his own nature and can perform all aspects of service to G‑d in a new, loftier manner.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, pp. 481-485;
Shabbos Parshas HaChodesh, 5740