This Shabbat is particularly joyful as we are celebrating Rosh Hodesh Nissan, the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. The beginning of every month on the Jewish calendar is observed as a special day, but this particular month holds special significance for us.
Indeed, the first Shabbat of the month of Nissan (whether it is also Rosh Hodesh or not) is celebrated as a special Shabbat . . . it is called "Shabbat HaHodesh" / The Shabbat of THE Month.
THE Month: the best of months, the paragon of months, our favorite month. What is so "THE" about Nissan?
A hint lies in the name itself: ניסן (Nissan) includes the word נס (neis).
Those of you who are dreidl aficionados, may recognize this powerful little word. Remember the letters on the dreidl?
נ = neis / miracle
ג = gadol / great
ה = hayah / was
ש = sham / there
"A great miracle happened there!"
So נס (neis) means "miracle!" And the word נס (neis) is the basis of the name of this month of Nissan.
There are a lot of miracles associated with Nissan . . . we learn in the Torah that this month is also referred to as חודש האביב / hodesh ha'aviv / the month of Spring.
My dear Rabbi, teacher and friend, Rabbi Neil Gillman, recollects a powerful moment he experienced when still a rabbinical student at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in Manhattan. One spring, student Neil Gillman was walking in Riverside Park with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (one of modern Judaism's greatest theologians). Suddenly, Rabbi Heschel stopped short, pointed to a tree and declared: "There is God in that tree!"
Understandably, Mr. Gillman was a bit disconcerted and confused, until Rabbi Heschel continued: "look at the buds on that tree, there is God, generating new life right in front of us!"
Hodesh Ha'aviv / Nissan, the month of Spring, is full of miracles for us to savor if we just stop to notice them.
Our month of miracles, ניסן / Nissan, also contains Hag Haheirut / the Festival of Freedom. Passover, of course. There are so many miraculous events involved in our people's redemption of Egyptian slavery: Moses' very survival as an infant was miraculous. Our people's survival as a functioning ethnic community in the face of centuries of slavery was miraculous. The intervention of the Israelite God in the natural order of Egyptian life was miraculous. And, of course, the miracle of miracles: the actual Exodus . . . our redemption from slavery and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. A miracle so vivid, so awe-inspiring, so breath-taking we revisit it every single day in our liturgy.
No wonder Nissan is referred to as THE month, a month packed with large and small miracles . . . what other month could possibly compete?!?
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.