Greg Killian: A Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) - In this study

Article Index

In this study I would like to examine Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, as a mitzva and as a celebration. Rosh Chodesh has a special Maftir and a special ashlamata (Haftorah) festival readings which are read, in addition to the normal Torah portion and ashlamata, on Shabbat. These readings interrupt both the the Annual and the Triennial / Septennial Torah cycles.


Rosh Chodesh literally means, "beginning renewal" and idiomatically means the "beginning of the month" or "new moon". Strong’s renders the following definition:

7218 ro'sh, roshe; from an unused root appar. mean. to shake; the head (as most easily shaken), whether lit. or fig. (in many applications, of place, time, rank, etc.):-band, beginning, captain, chapiter, chief (- est place, man, things), company, end, X every [man], excellent, first, forefront, ([be-]) head, height, (on) high (-est part, [priest]), X lead, X poor, principal, ruler, sum, top.

2320 chodesh, kho'-desh; from 2318; the new moon; by impl. a month:-month (- ly), new moon.

--------------- Dictionary Trace ---------------

2318 chadash, khaw-dash'; a prim. root; to be new; caus. to rebuild:-renew, repair.

The calculations for Rosh Chodesh were the fulfillment of prophecy and they represented great wisdom:

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:5-6 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."

"You shall guard and you shall do..." Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman said in the name of Rebbe Yonatan, from where do we know that it is a mitzva for each man to calculate the seasons and the months? It is written, "You shall guard and you shall do, for it is evidence, in the eyes of the nations, of the wisdom and understanding that has been given to you." 


What is the wisdom and understanding that Israel possesses "in the eyes of the nations"? We must say that it refers to the calculation of the seasons and months. Concerning one who knows how to calculate and does not do so, the verse says:

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 5:12 They did not contemplate HaShem's deeds, and they have not paid attention to the work of His hands.

The difference between Israel and the nations of the world is that we use a lunar calendar and they use a solar calendar. "The sun and the moon can be said to represent these two opposing viewpoints. The sun is constant and unchanging. Its fixed path symbolizes the nations' belief that the world has always existed and that nothing new is ever introduced by a higher guiding Hand. The moon, on the other hand, is constantly changing. This symbolizes the faith of Israel, who see the whole of nature as something new and innovative, that is under constant supervision and that therefore has the potential for change." It was later given to the women since they had not ever abandoned this faith in HaShem's guidance by making the Golden Calf. "Rosh Chodesh is the day that emphasizes our separation from the nations. Jews believe in the world's creation from nothing and in all the consequences of that belief. Our lives are therefore always being renewed in HaShem's service and are constantly filled with vitality." This perspective is brought out vividly in the Talmud:

Succah 29a It was taught: R. Meir said, Whenever the luminaries are in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel since they are inured to blows. This may be compared to a school teacher who comes to school with a strap in his hand. Who becomes apprehensive? He who is accustomed to be daily punished. Our Rabbis taught, When the sun is in eclipse it is a bad omen for idolaters; when Lavanah (Moon) is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel, since Israel reckons by Lavanah (Moon) and idolaters by the sun. If it is in eclipse in the east, it is a bad omen for those who dwell in the east; if in the west, it is a bad omen for those who dwell in the west; if in the midst of heaven it is bad omen for the whole world. If its face is red as blood, [it is a sign that] the sword is coming to the world; if it is like sack-cloth, the arrows of famine are coming to the world; if it resembles both, the sword and the arrows of famine are coming to the world. If the eclipse is at sunset calamity will tarry in its coming; if at dawn, it hastens on its way: but some say the order is to be reversed. And there is no nation which is smitten that its gods are not smitten together with it, as it is said, And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments. But when Israel fulfill the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens] as it is said, Thus saith HaShem,' Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them, the idolaters will be dismayed, but Israel will not be dismayed.