The Mishnah teaches that there are four new years in Judaism: one in Nisan, one in Elul, one in Tishri and one in Shevat (the last two are familiar to us as Rosh Hashanah and Tu Bishvat). I’m interested in the differences between the Nisan new year (closely associated with Pesach) and the one we’re about to celebrate – Rosh Hashanah.
At both times of year, the Torah commands the Israelites to make a sacrifice. At Rosh Hashana, the commandment is simply to “bring an offering by fire to God.” (Lev 23) But in Nisan the kind of sacrifice is very specific:
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you. Speak to the community leadership of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, let it share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby….” (Ex 12).
This is the Pesach sacrifice. It takes place at the time specified by the Torah as the beginning of months, and at the moment of the Jewish people’s rebirth during the Exodus from Egypt. I’m fascinated that this sacrifice – unlike the one at Rosh Hashanah – does not take place in the Tabernacle or Temple, and is inherently communal in its celebration.
This year Masorti Judaism has also seen lots of new beginnings, and they too have been intensely communal. Noam has bounced back with summer camps and Israel tours for hundreds of young people, and more year-round youth work in the community than I can ever remember. We’ve launched an exciting new initiative to create networks of young adults, build relationships between them, our rabbis and our communities, and help them shape the Judaism they want at a time of life when they’re not sure if synagogue is for them.
And the Masorti Judaism team has supported our communities with leadership training, professional advice, helping leaders share and problem solve through networks like the synagogue chairs’ forum, and training and recruiting new rabbis.
Just as the Torah marks the Israelites’ new beginning with the Pesach sacrifice, our new beginning is all about community, relationships and working together to create genuinely meaningful Jewish life.
Shana Tova from everyone at Masorti Judaism!
Dr Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism