Shabbat HaChodesh and Watching
Watch #1 Your lamb shall be without blemish…You shall keep watch
(mishmeret) over it until the fourteenh day of this month…
Exodus 12: 5,6
Watch #2 That was for God a night of vigil (layl shmurim)to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12: 42
Watch #3 that same night is God’s one of vigil (shee’moo’reem)
for all the children of Israel throughout the ages.
Exodus 12: 42
This Shabbat is called Shabbat HaChodesh. The designation comes from a verse which introduces the special Torah reading (from the Book of Exodus) we add to the regular Sabbath portion:
hachodesh hazeh lakhem rosh hodasheem
this month (Nisan) shall mark for you the beginnings of the months
Nisan includes the festival of Passover. In biblical times Nisan was the first Hebrew month because it represented the true origin of Am Yisrael as a nation. Nisan begins next Tuesday. On this Sabbath before Nisan, we read about the first Passover in Egypt as detailed in chapter 12 of Exodus. The Torah refers to a lamb, which each household selects a few days before offering it as a Passover sacrifice. During that intervening time, Israelites were commanded to keep watch over it; to make sure no blemishes occur.
Later on in the chapter (a section we do not read this Shabbat), there are two additional references to keeping watch: One (I refer to it above as watch #2) being on the night the Israelites left Egypt. The other reference (referred to above as watch #3) suggests a watch/vigil the Israelites will keep throughout history.
All three references use a form of the Hebrew root SHAMAR; a word which can mean to watch, to keep or to protect. In reference to the lamb (watch #1): To watch/guard makes the most sense; as each family had to carefully watch/guard the animal until sacrifice time.
With reference to watch #2: God was protecting the Israelites; so that they escaped safely. Therefore, to protect is an appropriate translation of that source.
Referring to watch #3: The Jewish people in every generation will need to protect themselves from all potential enemies. In addition to self defense; one path of vigilance is to keep living as Jews by remaining loyal to Jewish tradition and peoplehood. Therefore, when referring to Israel’s vigil throughout history; to protect and to keep are both accurate interpretations of the root SHAMAR.
These thoughts come to mind because of two events which were part of my schedule yesterday. For several hours our synagogue hosted a rabbinic study group with Professor Eliezar Diamond of the Jewish Theological Seminary. He shared unique insights and observations about the Passover Haggadah. Commitment to learning must not only be within the domain of rabbis, but within the domain of the greater Jewish community. One important way for us to protect our people (present and future) is to keep devoting ourselves-as adults and as children-to learning and experiencing our culture. Through continuous learning, we can sustain our religion and guard against apathy or indifference.
Last night, I participated in a Great Neck meeting to briefly address security issues of concern; in the aftermath of recent hate crimes against Jewish institutions. Unfortunately, even as the Jewish community guards/keeps its traditions and rituals, we also have to vigilantly guard against potential threats to our synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish community centers. It is a sad and inevitable reality that as we guard/keep our faith alive; we also need to actively protect ourselves from outside threats. The sources from Exodus however, clearly suggest that this duality (guarding/keeping our faith while simultaneously guarding/protecting ourselves from those threatening our faith) has existed throughout history.
My hope is that one day there will be little need to guard/protect ourselves from external forces. In that day, the only guarding necessary will be our vigilant and passionate guarding/keeping of our faith; as an expression of devotion to the history of Israel and to the people of Israel.
Rarely do I endorse a store or a company, but I call your attention to the expanded Passover section in our Lake Success/New Hyde Park Shop Right. I was impressed by the volume and variety of Passover products; some of which I have not seen before at that locale. Even as we support our kosher supermarkets, and other markets long known for their expanded Passover sections I wanted you to be aware of how my local market has expanded its service.