Shabbat HaChodesh 5778
by Rabbi Russ Resnik
This week culminates in Shabbat HaChodesh, the New Moon of the first month (March 16–17), which means Passover is only two weeks away, at the full moon. Now, New Moon might sound like an esoteric topic in our high-tech urban world, but we’ll see that it’s actually most relevant—not just to the simple agricultural life of our ancestors, but to our lives as well.
New Moon observance was definitely relevant to the imperial authorities who ruled over Israel in the time of the Maccabees. To consolidate his power, Emperor Antiochus sought to force the Jews into the mold of the dominant Hellenistic culture. According to some sources, he banned three essential mitzvot: circumcision, Shabbat, and blessing the New Moon. Now, the first two mitzvot are Jewish identity markers given in Torah (Gen 17:11; Exod 31:13, 17). But why a ban on blessing the New Moon? Because on this mitzvah the entire Jewish calendar depended. Without an official notice of the New Moon, the rest of the calendar would collapse. Passover and the rest of the holy days would soon be lost.
There’s an additional reason for the ban, which Antiochus might not have been aware of, but the evil spiritual forces behind his strategy were. New Moon is a sign of renewal, of the unquenchable resiliency of the Jewish people.
Just as the moon disappears at the end of each month, but returns and grows in fullness, so Israel may suffer exile and decline, but it always renews itself [better: is always renewed by God]—until the coming of Messiah, when the promise of the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai will be fulfilled, never to be dimmed again. (Artscroll Chumash on Exod 12:2)
In this week’s Haftarah reading, Ezekiel portrays the renewed temple of the Age to Come, and the “prince” who serves within it.
It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. . . . Thus says the Lord God: In the first month, on the first day of the month [the new moon], you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary. (Ezek 45:17a, 18)
The New Moon will continue to be marked and sanctified, even in the Age to Come. Its importance is underscored in the genealogy of Messiah as Matthew summarizes it: “Thus there were fourteen generations from Avraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian Exile to the Messiah” (Matt 1:17 CJB). Fourteen doesn’t represent the literal number of generations in each segment; rather, it is the numerical equivalent of “David” spelled dalet, vav, dalet in Hebrew. Dalet is the sign for four and vav for six, so dalet vav dalet, David, equals fourteen, underlining Yeshua’s descent from King David.
Moreover, fourteen is the number of days between the new moon on day one and the full moon on day fifteen. Matthew is framing his genealogy within the cyclical renewal of the moon. Abraham is like the new moon, bringing the first light of revelation, which finally shines forth in fullness with the arrival of David (Matt 1:2–6). From David’s reign, the kingdom declines until the moon disappears with the Babylonian Exile (Matt 1:6–11), and then is renewed and grows great again from the Exile to the full light of Messiah’s coming (Matt 1:12–17). (I first heard this interpretation in a seminar by Dr. Mark Kinzer.)
Messiah’s story, however, doesn’t end with his coming, but with his resurrection, the first installment of the great resurrection to come. Just as the moon rises again out of the darkness to renew the lunar cycle, so Messiah rises again from death to bring light to the world. The New Moon of the first month begins the two-week countdown to Passover, the festival of past redemption that anticipates the redemption to come, the resurrection at the end of the age, as we say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Our haftarah imagines a future observance of Passover a the Lord instructs the prince: “On the fourteenth day of the first month you are to have the Pesach, a feast seven days long; matzah will be eaten” (Ezek 45:21). Hope, symbolized by the waxing moon, is so central to life with God that the prophet envisions the annual cycle of New Moon and Passover continuing on in the Age to Come.
In Messianic faith, resurrection hope is even more central. Rav Sha’ul reminds us of the Good News “which you received, and on which you have taken your stand . . . namely, the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1, 3–4).
Hope, renewal, resurrection are as inherent to the life of faith as the waxing moon is to the cycle of the year. Resurrection isn’t just a bullet-point in our belief list, but a hope on which we stand. Belief in the resurrection is essential not only because it gives individual consolation in the face of death, but because it suffuses the entire story of humankind and God with hope.
We see this hope resting upon Messiah Yeshua:
But now Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah will all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20, 22)
So, let the New Moon remind us that in Messiah we always have hope.
- Amid the chaos and despair all around us, we build lives of meaning and purpose.
- Amid the onslaught of materialism and unbelief, we know the human story is headed for redemption.
We don’t have a guarantee that our lives are going to be more exciting, prosperous, trouble-free than the lives of others. We have something better: an undying hope that doesn’t depend on ourselves, but on the one who arose from the dead during Passover long ago.