Veteran or novice: whom do you choose? Let’s say that you are the coach of a sports team, and you have accomplished stars on your roster, but they’re approaching their sell-by date. Then you have some budding talents waiting on the sidelines to get a shot at proving themselves. Which do you pick? You want to win this game, so perhaps you’re safer sticking with the experienced professionals. On the other hand, you want to build a team for the future. So whom do you choose?

On the Shabbat leading into the Jewish month of Nissan, there is a special Torah reading known as Hachodesh (Exodus 12:1–20). The reading begins with how G‑d commanded Moses and Aaron concerning the Jewish calendar: “This month shall be the head of the months for you.” Moses and Aaron are instructed that the start of each month—Rosh Chodesh—should be determined by the new moon, and that ours would be a lunar calendar.

Should we not rather consecrate the month on the fifteenth of the lunar month, when the moon is full?According to the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, Moses had a difficulty with the precise definition of the “new moon.” So G‑d explained it to Moses by showing him exactly what the new moon looked like in the sky. Hachodesh hazeh, “this month,” literally means “this new [moon].” “This you shall see and sanctify,” Moses was told: this is the type of moon that will tell you when to proclaim and sanctify Rosh chodesh, the new month.

Why, in fact, do we sanctify the moon when it is “new,” a mere sliver in the sky? Should we not rather consecrate the month on the fifteenth of the lunar month, when the moon is full, an impressive sphere of celestial proportions?

Indeed, there are two kinds of moons. There is the big, full moon of the middle of the month. But then, as we go into the second half of the month, that moon will start waning, and then it will diminish from view until it is completely out of sight. The full moon is one day away from being “over the hill,” and from there on it’s downhill all the way until the end of the month. Whereas the new moon, small as it may be, represents growth. It may be tiny now, but it will grow nightly in the sky until it becomes full and resplendent. And so G‑d says to Moses: I want you to sanctify the small moon; this little moon is pleasing in My eyes. “This you shall see and sanctify,” the small, new moon that will very soon loom large in your eyes.

Our sages tell us that “Israel is likened to the moon.” Ours is a lunar calendar because we are a lunar people. The Jewish people, too, have a history of waxing and waning, of ups and downs. And just like the two moons, so are there two types of Jews. There is the full Jew, rich in knowledge and practice, but content and complacent, perhaps somewhat fat and lethargic. This Jew is committed to his faith, perhaps has been his entire life, but he is on the verge of a decline. He is about to start waning, because he is tired and uninspired. He knows it all, he’s been there and done it all, and—like Humpty Dumpty—is sitting on top of the wall just waiting for a fall.

Just like the two moons, so are there two types of JewsAnd then there is the fledgling Jew, the little new moon that has just emerged from the darkness. He is still tiny, but he has just discovered the beauty and truth of Judaism. This Jew is geared for growth, poised for prominence and ready for takeoff. He is still very much a novice, his knowledge still minute; but he is inspired, excited and passionate about his newly found faith.

So which Jew will we count our months by? Who will shape our future? Will it be the old, tired veteran who is too old to change and just about ready to retire? Or will it be the new Jew who, though inexperienced, is still longing to learn and ready for renewal and rebirth?

Personally, I’ve always been inspired by the new Jew. I get a kick out of seeing that eager, open mind brimming with questions, finding fascinating things I took for granted. To me the new Jew represents hope and optimism, freshness and promise.

G‑d told us to count our months by the small new moon. May I humbly suggest that it is the “new Jew” who will illuminate our world and make G‑d count.