The calendar this year aligned to have rosh chodesh at the beginning of the week, and the celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday — Yom Ha’Atzma’ut — in the same week. (When Yom Ha’atzmaut is observed Tuesday or Wednesday, rosh chodesh is in the previous week). What a momentous time for the Jewish people!
In truth, every birthday of the Jewish state is something to marvel over. One of my friends who lives in Israel once told me why he chose to make aliyah. “We are living in a time of what is perhaps the greatest experiment of Jewish history. Israel should be around forever! But if something should happen and we were to lose it, I’d like to be able to say that I was there.”
So in this week of rosh chodesh, here is a thought that relates to both renewal and the number 70.
The word chodesh is reminiscent of chiddush – which either means renewal or a new idea altogether. The commentaries say “chodesh,” meaning “month,” comes from the word chiddush because the New Moon always coincides with rosh chodesh, when it achieves its monthly renewal.
Two points recounted by the Midrash Aggadah surrounding the first rosh chodesh are a. that of all nations since the dawn of time, G-d chose to love the Israelites, evidenced by giving them Rosh Chodesh as a monthly celebration, and b. “The new moon is for you — G-d emphasized that he could have given it to Adam, or any human beings in history, but “I gave it to the humans that comprise My people — the Children of Israel at the time of the Exodus.”
Rabbenu Bechaye says about kiddush ha chodesh, and about blessing over the New Moon: “One who stands and blesses the moon is giving testimony about the chiddush of the world, which is a fundamental concept of faith. He recognizes G-d’s existence, He who renews the moon each month.”
But perhaps the most profound idea of Chiddush can come from the Mechilta, who notes how there are similarities between months and years in how the moon determines the length of each. In the lunar calendar, a month is a little over 29-1/2 days, which makes each month in the Jewish calendar 29 or 30 days. The year is usually 12 months, but owing to the need to always have Pesach in the spring, we sometimes need to add a month, making a leap year, and we do that at the end of the year, as we do when there is a Jewish leap year and a second Adar.
And so the Mechilta says, “Just as a month gets the added day at the end of the month, so does a year have its addition at the end.”
And I think that in light of a number of views of the number 70, we can take the message of the Mechilta to its next logical step.
Tehillim 90, one of the paragraphs we read as part of the morning service on Shabbat and holidays, says this: The days of our lives are 70, and with increase, 80. … It passes quickly and we fly away.” We ask of G-d two verses later “Teach the number of our days so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.”
May I suggest that the next logical step of “the extra of the month is at the end of the month, and the extra added to a year is at the end of the year,” that the extra added to a life is at the so-called end — meaning the latter part — of the average life?
President Lincoln hoped in his Gettysburg Address that the nation would have a “rebirth of freedom.” According to the verse from Tehillim 90 — it can be argued that anything after 70 is a gift. This can be applied to both the state of Israel and to every person’s life. We can look to the post 70 time as a renewal, something which can be looked at a with a new set of eyes.
R Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his inimitable style, actually makes this point. “Your perception of the renewal of the moon should inspire you to undertake a similar renewal,” he writes. “The sanctification of the new moon is an institution for the moral and spiritual rejuvenation of Israel, to which Israel must always strive anew at regular periods, and which it will achieve through its re-encounter with G-d.” As the sages put it, “The renewal of the month is a model for you” to have a constant renewal. Reenergizing when the excitement of any activity or recommitment ends, we find something new. We begin again.
The Daf Yomi finishes a tractate. They make a siyum and they go onto the next one. We finish reading a parsha. By Mincha, we’re reading the next one. We finish reading a Book of the Torah, we begin the next one right away. On Simchas Torah, when we finish the Torah, we have another Torah in the wings, ready to begin with Bereshis.
Before the month ends we bless the month that will be coming.
And when we have our renewal of life at 70, especially if the question hasn’t been asked yet, each person must ask the question of “how am I making the most of my add-ons?” The state of Israel needs constant revision — how do we renew the Zionist spirit when our country is built and is so highly successful in so many ways? How do we deal with poverty, how do we resolve our internal conflicts? How do we deal with our enemies? How do we engage the world? How do we remain the Start-Up Nation?
Dov Gruner, one of the more famous Irgun fighters, who was executed by the British court in Palestine in 1947 at the age of 34, wrote to Menachem Begin when he was in prison awaiting his execution or the staying of it, “Of course I want to live. Who does not? But if I am sorry that I am about to ‘finish’ it is mainly because I did not manage to do enough.” Little did he know that his “not enough” is more heroic than most people achieve in full lifetimes.
Every year the New Moon is very close to Yom Ha’atzmaut. As noting its renewal is meant to be a recognition of G-d’s existence, and if 70 for each of us and for Israel is to be looked at as more than a gift and add-on, but as a rebirth of freedom that challenges us to make whatever comes after 70 to be even greater than what came before, then we all have our work cut out for us, don’t we? If we are blessed with such longevity, we should not ever feel like Dov Gruner that we did not do enough.
May Israel live long and prosper now and forever!