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A Modern Orthodox Synagogue

Parashat Shemini

Dear Friend,
The past several parshiyot have detailed the laws surrounding the construction of the Mishkan and the details of its offerings.  This week's parasha, Parashat Shemini, narrates the actual beginning in practice of the priestly service in the Mishkan.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes on this otherwise joyous day, as the Kohen Gadol's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, are struck down while serving improperly in the Tabernacle.  While various theories have been put forth in an attempt to explain what mishap these two brothers might have committed in order to elicit such Divine wrath, the fact that the Torah immediately follows this narrative with a commandment to the Kohanim barring them from entering the Holy while intoxicated was not lost upon the Torah's commentators.
Parashat Shemini also includes guidelines as to how to determine which animals, foul, and fish are kosher, and which ones are not.
This Shabbat is also Parashat Hachodesh.  A second Sefer Torah is removed from the Aron Kodesh, from which we read the commandment to the Jewish people to sanctify Rosh Chodesh and to establish a calendar.  The Torah is in essence a collection of mitzvahs, Divine imperatives meant to guide the lives of God's people.  If so, Rashi asks in the very first words of his commentary on the Torah, then "why not begin the Torah with the mitzvah to sanctify Rosh Chodesh, for it is the first mitzvah that the Jewish people were commanded to perform (Rashi to Bereishit 1:1)?"  Why, Rashi asks, does the Torah first tell all about the creation of the world, Garden of Eden, tower of Babel etc, etc, before finally arriving at the first mitzvah only in Parashat Bo in Sefer Shemot, as the Jewish people are about to be redeemed from Egypt?  
While Rashi's answer as to why the Torah indeed begins with the entire pre-mitzvah narrative is indeed quite interesting, most relevant to our discussion is the fact that Rashi identifies Rosh Chodesh as the first mitzvah that the Jewish people received from the Almighty.
What is so special about the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh that it merited the distinction of being the first mitzvah for the people to perform?  What significance may we discern from the fact that this mitzvah was commanded to the Jewish people in the midst of the Ten Plagues, when they were readying themselves to leave Mitzrayim?  How does the mitzvah to establish a calendar system symbolize the special bond between Hashem and the Jewish people?  What are the roots of the peculiar Jewish lunar-solar calendar?  And finally, as the sun and the moon continue to serve in the employ of our calendar system, how might that dynamic color how we might react to the upcoming eclipse?
I look forward to exploring these questions deeper when we meet for Parashat Hachodesh services at 9:30 am this Shabbat morning at JSS, 4200 Park Avenue, Bridgeport.
All the best,
 
Rabbi Peretz Robinson