After we read this week’s double Parsha of VaYakhel Pekudei, we will read a special Maftir for Shabbat HaHodesh (Ex. 12:1-20). The second verse of this portion reads, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you/הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים, רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה” (Ex. 12:2). This maftir retells what is classically understood to be the first mitzvah (the mitzvah of sanctifying time) given to us as a nation, just before we are redeemed and leave Egypt behind us.
The Gemara (BT Shabbat 147b) tells a story of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh who traveled to a region which had splendid wine and glorious waters. Rabbi Elazar got sucked into the physical world that surrounded him. Who could blame him? Great wine and a good schvitz! But when he got pulled into those pleasures, his Torah learning went with him, and he forgot what he had learned during all his years in yeshiva. When Rabbi Elazar came back from his vacation, he got up to read from the Torah and he was supposed to read “ha’hodesh hazeh lachem/הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם/This month shall mark for you” (Ex. 12:2), but instead, since he had forgotten everything, it came out, “haheresh hayah libam/החרש היה לבם/Have their hearts become deaf?” Immediately the Sages prayed for him. God had mercy upon him and returned Torah back to Rabbi Elazar.
The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, Poland 1847-1905) teaches that all renewal takes place when and where holiness was previously hidden. He reads the story of Rabbi Elazar to say that first hearts were deaf, and only then could they receive the mitzvah of HaHodesh. That is why we go down into Egypt in the first place. We go down into a dark place where we cannot see the light of Torah, so that we can be renewed and shown the light of redemption. We read this maftir as (hopefully!) the winter is ending, with Rosh Hodesh Nissan coming up next week and Pesah/Passover coming just around the corner. The cold and darkness we have endured leads to the redemptive light of spring that comes with Nissan and Pesah.
We live busy lives with real and immediate needs. It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily routines and to become servants to our smartphones and ever intruding technology. As we are pulled down into a world of mundane tasks and fleeting desires, try to look up and see the light that God is giving us. As Alfred says (played by Michael Cain in Batman Begins), “Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”