Sanctity of time: The uniqueness of the People of Israel

Kiddush HaChodesh is the mitzva that G-d commanded to make us His junior partners in the sanctity of time.

Phil Chernofsky ,

Super moon
Super moon
Sam Konigsberg

VAYVARECH ELOKIM ET YOM HASH'VI'I VAYKADEISH OTO... God blessed the seventh day, and He declared it to be holy...

This pasuk, B'reishit 2:3, is familiar to us all from the Kiddush of Leil Shabbat. It states that G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

And so, we are introduced to the concept of Sanctity of Time.

The act of K'dushat Z'man was G-d's doing. By Himself. We are commanded to keep the Shabbat. We are commanded to recite Kiddush as Shabbat enters, both in our T'fila and at the Shabbat table with a cup of wine.

But it was HaShem Who sanctified the Shabbat. We came into the picture later.

In this week's sedra, we find the next level of Sanctification of Time. It comes in the form of the first mitzva commanded to Bnei Yisrael, even before we left Egypt.

The words in the Written Torah are HACHODESH HAZEH LACHEM... and we are taught that this is the mitzva to set up the Jewish Calendar.

The two major components of this mitzva are the sanctification of each Rosh Chodesh - from which follows the sanctity, K'DUSHA, of the holy days that fall within a given month.

G-d gave this second act of K'DUSHAT Z'MAN to the Jewish People to perform. Basically, He said, I want you to be pro-active in this act of Sanctification of Time. You do it, and the first of the month will be holy, and so will all the holy days of the calendar.

If you don't sanctify the first of Nisan, (hypothetical, only) then the 15th of Nisan will not be Pesach. It will be a regular day. No prohibition of Melacha, no Seder, no prohibition of Chametz - just a regular day. You (meaning us) are in charge of this level of K'dushat Z'man.

G-d commands us as to when the holy days are to be, but it is Bnei Yisrael that declares them and sanctifies them.

Today, between Sanhedrins, we use a fixed calendar, the Rosh Chodesh of every month having been sanctified by a Sanhedrin of long ago.

When we have a sitting Sanhedrin - past and IYH the near future - the process of declaring Rosh Chodesh relies on eye-witness testimony to the first visibility of the lunar crescent.

Bear with me - this is how important our active participation in Kiddush HaChodesh is. And the point is made clear by G-d Himself.

Testimony for Kiddush HaChodesh is unique to the wide range of witness situations.

When two people have a money dispute, and A says one thing and B says the opposite, the judges do not know who is telling the truth. Maybe A is lying. Maybe not. Same for B. If the party with the burden of proof presents witnesses to back up his claim, the judges question the witnesses thoroughly, and now know the truth. And they act upon it.

Same for an injury case or one for damages. The judges don't know the truth. The hear both sides and don't know who is telling the truth and who is not.

Same for a corporal or capital case. Witnesses supply the judges with the truth - based on, AL PI SH'NAYIM EIDIM... YAKUM DAVAR. According to the witnesses (duly questioned and examines), truth shall be established.

Not so with witnesses for Kiddush HaChodesh. The panel of Sanhedrin members are required to know in advance, all the details about the visibility of the Moon - position in the sky, shape, and so on, so that when potential witness show up, the judges use their knowledge to verify the testimony of witnesses who aren't necessarily sure that they actually saw the L'VANA B'CHIDUSHA. This time, the judges know the truth in advance and the witnesses do not necessarily have that truth.

So why wait for witnesses when the court knows the situation better than them?

Because this is what HaShem meant when He emphasized LACHEM (occurring twice in the pasuk). Even though the primary responsibility for setting up the calendar is the Sanhedrin, HKB"H wanted participation by AMCHA, regular people.

The Greeks knew how important the Jewish Calendar was to our Nationhood and they tried to take it away from us. B"H, they failed.

The aspect of the Kiddush HaChodesh procedure that really shows us how important our active involvement in Kiddush Z'man is, can be found in the Friday night situation.

Picture this: We have a Sanhedrin. Hilltop yishuv in northern Galil. Friday was the 29th of the month. A guy glances at the sky during Kabalat Shabbat (because of corona, he's at an outdoors minyan). He looks towards the horizon, sees a faint curved line of light and says to himself that it might be the L'VANA B'CHIDUSHA. No one else noticed it and by the time he tells someone, it isn't visible anymore. He finishes davening, goes home, makes Kiddush for his family, his wife packs him a meal to go, he get's into his car and drives to Yerushalayim. Yes, on Friday night.

He arrives at the Sanhedrin headquarters in Yerushalayim and offers his testimony. He thinks he might have seen the first visibility of the Moon, but he is not sure. The panel of judges taking his testimony already know if and when and where in the sky the Moon was visible. Fact. There are circumstances when no witnesses show up and they have to discretionary power to declare Rosh Chodesh without witnesses (if not doing so would mess up the calendar).

So let's get this straight. The rule could have been that if the 29th of a month were on a Friday and the Moon would be visible that night (Leil Shabbat), let the Sanhedrin exercise their authority to declare R"Ch without needing to have people drive their cars on Friday night.

The rule could have been that, but it isn't.

In order to carry out the full process of Kiddush HaChodesh via the active participation of Am Yisrael, HaShem, so to speak, allows - no, requires - what would be in other circumstances, Chilul Shabbat - the day He sanctified, so that we can actively participate in that part of K'dushat Z'man, that He turned over to us.

Wait. We all know that driving on Shabbat would be permitted in a case of danger to life, PIKU'ACH NEFESH. Being a witness for Kiddush HaChodesh is like that? Especially when the potential witness isn't even sure he saw the newness of the Moon, and/or he might not prove necessary because of witnesses who arrive at the Sanhedrin before he does, because they live closer to Jerusalem. And when the judges are sure about the newness of the Moon, without having seen it.

The answer is YES. Kiddush HaChodesh is on the level of National Piku'ach Nefesh. It is the foundation mitzva of all the holy days of the year. It is the mitzva that G-d commanded to make us His junior partners in the Sanctity of Time.