This week’s Torah reading describes the exodus from Egypt. Before the Jewish people were redeemed, they were required to offer the Paschal sacrifice. G‑d introduces His commandment to bring that sacrifice with the statement: “This month is for you the beginning of months.”

Our Sages interpret that statement as a commandment to sanctify the new moon, beginning a new month. Although every few years a correlation is made to the solar calendar, it is the phases of the moon that determine when a month begins. When the new moon was sighted by the Jewish people and testimony to that effect is delivered in court, the new month begins.

Now the holidays we observe are dependent on the days of the month. They are not just celebrations on the earthly plane, but rather events that cause changes in the spiritual realms above. Thus G‑d and the heavenly court wait, as it were, for the judges on this earthly plane to determine when the months begin.

This is not only a halachic concept. In an inner personal sense as well, the power of renewal is vested in the Jewish people. No matter what a person’s situation is, he is capable of renewing himself. He can penetrate to the G‑dly core within his heart and find the inner resources to make radical changes in his life and his circumstances.

For every Jew possesses a soul that is an actual part of G‑d. Just as G‑d stands above the natural order and manipulates it at will, so too, every Jew has the potential to rise above his natural tendencies and his habits and begin a new phase of personal development.

לכם, the word, translated as “for you” in the above verse shares the same Hebrew letters as the word מלך, meaning “king” and our Sages state that Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the date this commandment was given, is the date from which the years of a king’s reign are counted. In a personal sense, this implies that just as a king rules over his nation by fiat, so too, each one of us can be kinglike, calmly controlling his life and changing his circumstances at will.

Our Sages note that this commandment is the first mitzvah given to our people as a collective and there is an opinion that maintains that the Torah should have begun with this passage. For this potential for renewal is of the highest priority. It shaped the identity of our people as they emerged from slavery in Egypt and it shapes each person’s individual identity as he emerges from his own “house of bondage.”

Nissan, the time when this commandment was given, is the month of spring, illustrating how this potential for renewal permeates even the physical setting in which we live. As a person sees the trees budding and flowers beginning to bloom, he realizes that who we are and what we have done is not as important as who we can be and what we can do.

We do not have to accept our present limitations. On the contrary, our G‑dly potential is infinite and at each and every moment, we can exercise our capacity for renewal, changing our situation radically.

Looking to the Horizon

When describing the Paschal sacrifice, the Torah states: “So shall you eat it, your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You shall eat it in haste.” In contrast, with regard to the ultimate redemption, it is written: “You will not leave in haste, nor will you depart in flight.”

The Jews had to flee Egypt, because they were fleeing themselves. There were parts of their personalities that had not been refined or elevated and were very little different than the Egyptians’. Throughout the years of bondage, they had been slaves and had not had the opportunity to develop themselves. Therefore they were not ready for redemption and had to accept it unprepared. Had they not fled, Egypt would have attracted them and they would not have left.

Throughout the centuries leading to the ultimate redemption, by contrast, our people have been refining themselves and their surrounding environment, making the world ready for Mashiach. Slowly, painstakingly so, the exile is purifying mankind of its undesirable character traits. Therefore, when Mashiach comes, we will not have to flee; we will accept him with joy and thanksgiving.