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Bo. Making Time Count

After the Egyptians have been afflicted with nine plagues, and before the final most devastating plague which will herald the Israelite's freedom, the Israelites are given a surprising instruction, described by many as the first national Mitzva. It is the inauguration of a new calendar

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (12:1-2)

And that is it! No explanation or elaboration. From this point forth, the month of Israel’s redemption, the month we nowadays call Nissan, is designated numerically as “the first month” and similarly, in most of Tanakh until the Babylonian Exile, months have numbers rather than names, always counting back to the Exodus.

What is this peculiar Mitzva? Why, on the verge of Freedom, before the instruction regarding the Paschal Lamb, does God instigate a new Jewish calendar?

The basic criterion which distinguishes free man from slave is the kind of relationship each has with time and its experience. Bondage is identical with passive intuition and reception of an empty, formal time stream. When the Jews were delivered from the Egyptian oppression …he [Moses] was told by God that the path leading from … liberation to consummate freedom leads through the medium of time. (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Sacred and Profane)

A people newly freed must …be sustained by its own native resources if it is to achieve true national independence, if it is no longer to be a passive object of history, subservient to an alien culture. A liberated people must evolve and stress its own distinctive autonomous culture … forge its own institutions. One of its first desiderata is the establishment of a uniform calendar… a powerful instrument of societal, cultural and religious cohesion.” (Nahum S