Greg Killian: A Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) - The Firts Mitzva


The First Mitzva

The first mitzva given to the congregation of Israel is:

Shemot (Exodus) 12:1-2 HaShem said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.”

To put it another way: The first command, given to the congregation of Israel, was to:

1. Set up a calendar, based on the moon,

2. With Nisan as the first month.

Notice that this first command is given to Moses and Aaron as representing the highest authority in the nation. From this, it is derived that the authority for sanctifying the new moon and for establishing the order of the months lies with the highest authority in the nation, namely the Sanhedrin, as the Talmud relates:

Rosh HaShana 22a MISHNA. IF A FATHER AND A SON HAVE SEEN THE NEW MOON, THEY SHOULD BOTH GO [TO JERUSALEM], NOT THAT THEY CAN ACT AS JOINT WITNESSES[9] BUT SO THAT IF ONE OF THEM IS DISQUALIFIED[10] THE OTHER MAY JOIN WITH SOME OTHER WITNESS. R. SIMEON, HOWEVER, SAYS THAT A FATHER AND SON AND ALL RELATIVES ARE ELIGIBLE TO TESTIFY TO THE APPEARANCE OF THE NEW MOON. R. JOSE SAID: IT HAPPENED ONCE WITH TOBIAH THE PHYSICIAN THAT HE SAW THE NEW MOON IN JERUSALEM ALONG WITH HIS SON AND HIS EMANCIPATED SLAVE, AND THE PRIESTS ACCEPTED HIS EVIDENCE AND THAT OF HIS SON AND DISQUALIFIED HIS SLAVE, BUT WHEN THEY APPEARED BEFORE THE BETH DIN THEY ACCEPTED HIS EVIDENCE AND THAT OF HIS SLAVE AND DISQUALIFIED HIS SON.

GEMARA. R. Levi said: What is the reason of R. Simeon? — Because it is written, and the Lord spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months,[11] which implies, ‘this testimony shall be valid [when given] by you’.[12] And the Rabbis? — [It implies], this evidence shall be entrusted to you.[13]


This authority is reiterated in:

Rosh HaShana 25a Our Rabbis taught: Once the heavens were covered with clouds and the likeness of the moon was seen on the twenty-ninth of the month. The public were minded to declare New Moon, and the Beth din wanted to sanctify it, but Rabban Gamaliel said to them: I have it on the authority of the house of my father's father that the renewal of the moon takes place after not less than twenty-nine days and a half and two-thirds of an hour and seventy-three halakin.[14] On that day the mother of Ben Zaza died, and Rabban Gamaliel made a great funeral oration over her, not because she had merited it, but so that the public should know that the Beth din had not sanctified the month.[15]

'HaShem said to Moses and to Aaron: "... this month shall be for you the beginning of months ..." And at the moment when Moses our teacher received this command, the Holy One, blessed be He, transmitted to him the precise rules for intercalating the New Moon. Thus He made known to Moses the method for establishing the times and the seasons.'[16]

Moses and Aaron were told by HaShem, in the oral law[17], that normally there should be two witnesses who actually see the new moon, in order to sanctify it on the thirtieth day. If no witnesses come on the thirtieth day, it is automatically sanctified on the thirty-first day.

Sanhedrin 10b THE INTERCALATION[18] OF THE MONTH BY THREE. [The Tanna of the Mishna] mentions neither the ‘calculation’[19] nor the ‘sanctification’[20] , but the INTERCALATION of the month. [Why then the need of three for this?] Suppose it is not sanctified [on the thirtieth day] it will then be automatically intercalated! — Abaye therefore said: Read then, THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE MONTH. It is also taught to the same effect: The sanctification of the month and the intercalation of the year is to be determined by three. So R. Meir holds. But, asked Raba, does not the Mishna say, the INTERCALATION? — Hence, said Raba, the Mishnah means that the sanctification made on INTERCALATION, that is on the intercalary day,[21] is determined by three; but on the day after it there is to be no sanctification. And this represents the opinion of R. Eliezer b. Zadok, as it has been taught: R. Eliezer b. Zadok says: If the new moon has not been visible in time, there is no need for the Sanctification next day, as it has already been sanctified in Heaven.[22]

Many assume that the witnesses were necessary because the Sanhedrin lacked the ability to calculate the time of the new moon. This is not born out by the facts. Consider: Why would the witnesses look on the thirtieth day, except they knew that that was the first time it might be visible. Also we should note that the last Sanhedrin calculated the new moons so accurately that they were able to sanctify every new moon for nearly two thousand years!

Synagogue Service:

The Temple services were given to King David in a dream and written down for his son, Solomon, as we can see from this next passage:

Divrei Hayamim (I Chronicles) 28:11-19 Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of HaShem and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things. He gave him instructions for the divisions of the priests and Levites, and for all the work of serving in the temple of HaShem, as well as for all the articles to be used in its service. He designated the weight of gold for all the gold articles to be used in various kinds of service, and the weight of silver for all the silver articles to be used in various kinds of service: The weight of gold for the gold lamp stands and their lamps, with the weight for each lamp stand and its lamps; and the weight of silver for each silver lamp stand and its lamps, according to the use of each lamp stand; The weight of gold for each table for consecrated bread; the weight of silver for the silver tables; The weight of pure gold for the forks, sprinkling bowls and pitchers; the weight of gold for each gold dish; the weight of silver for each silver dish; And the weight of the refined gold for the altar of incense. He also gave him the plan for the chariot, that is, the cherubim of gold that spread their wings and shelter the ark of the covenant of HaShem. "All this," David said, "I have in writing from the hand of HaShem upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.”

Since the synagogue service is modeled after the Temple service, it would be instructive to see what is done in the synagogue today. We’ll start by examining the readings from the Tanakh[23]:

The Torah for weekday Rosh Chodesh

Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:1-15HaShem said to Moses, "Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: 'See that you present to me at the appointed time the food for my offerings made by fire, as an aroma pleasing to me.' Say to them: 'This is the offering made by fire that you are to present to HaShem: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day. Prepare one lamb in the morning and the other at twilight, Together with a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives. This is the regular burnt offering instituted at Mount Sinai as a pleasing aroma, an offering made to HaShem by fire. The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to HaShem at the sanctuary. Prepare the second lamb at twilight, along with the same kind of grain offering and drink offering that you prepare in the morning. This is an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to HaShem. "'On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. "'On the first of every month, present to HaShem a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; And with each lamb, a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to HaShem by fire. With each bull there is to be a drink offering of half a hin of wine; with the ram, a third of a hin; and with each lamb, a quarter of a hin. This is the monthly burnt offering to be made at each new moon during the year. Besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering, one male goat is to be presented to HaShem as a sin offering.