The calendar provides a framework, a temporal context for the flow of a society’s life. Here we are, leaving Egypt, about to begin marking the course of our national history. Sure, we could just borrow someone else’s calendar; but using a calendar that begins with the Exodus from Egypt, that begins with Pesah is an important step in marking the unique character and course of Jewish life and history. This, in fact, is the theme of the makot/plagues taken as a whole – to set aside the Jewish people and show that we have a unique reality in our relationship with God. The events of the Exodus are a moment in a history; a calendar establishes a unique context that continues. So from this perspective, maybe we can say that the calendar as maintained by the beit din sanctifying each new month provides the fluid, living context for all the rest of the Torah’s commandments – in fact, our culture.
Another take might be the view proposed by Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein in Torah Temimah. The Torah Temimah (I’d abbreviate that TT; but some of you would probably think I’m referring to a race on the Isle of Man) quotes the gemara in Sanhedrin: Rav Asi said in Rabi Yohanan’s name that everyone who blesses the new month at it’s due time, it is as if he is receiving the Divine Presence. That’s quite a comparison! The Torah Temimah suggests the following rationale: the renewal of the moon each month calls our attention to God’s continuous renewal of all creation. One who notes this, and blesses the new month is bearing testimony to God’s renewal of His world and His glory. This is why the gemara in Sanhedrin compared this to our exalted state when the Red Sea split and we sang the Song at the Sea, ‘this is my God and I will glorify/beautify Him’. So, from this perspective the calendar isn’t only peculiar to our society and the flow of events. From this take, the calendar, which is renewed every month with the renewal of the lunar cycle, is another reminder and anchor for us to stay aware and express God’s mastery in the world. I would say that the two ideas even go together. Since the calendar is indeed the context for a society’s activity, and since this calendar is a Divine commandment which anchors our activity in our awareness and recognition of God; then the calendar lends a framework of holiness for the whole flow of society’s function.
Finally, the Ramban offers an insight into why the calendar starts here, in the month of leaving Egypt. In the Torah, the months are not named; they are only numbered. And so, throughout the Torah, throughout the year, mentioning a month by it’s number is a reminder back to the first month – the month of leaving Egypt. Ramban compares this to the days of the week. The days of the week also have no name, except for Shabbat. And so, each day is Day X from Shabbat. This, by the way, is still the case in Hebrew. Although we adopted names for the months, we never did so for the days of the week. And so, just as the mention of each day of the week reminds us of Shabbat Lashem/God’s Shabbat; so the order of the calendar beginning with the Exodus also reminds us of God’s establishing us as a nation and the relationship that He founded at that time.
May we be blessed that our awareness of the cycles of the week and month will indeed increase our awareness of the One Who took us out of Egypt to be His people, to receive and live by His Torah, to establish a holy society in His land.
cross-posted to Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance