Nisan “first of the months”

posted in: HebrewMonths, Nissan | 0

The Torah calls Nisan the “first of the months” (Exodus 12:2). Among other things, it’s the beginning of the new year when counting the years of a king’s reign, and for laws concerning the year of Jewish holidays. Similar to a school year differing from a calendar year, the Hebrew calendar has two main yearly cycles. One starts in Nisan, in the spring. One starts in Tishrei, in the fall, and is called Rosh HaShanah. Tishrei is a time when God judges humanity, a time of justice and judgment, symbolized by the scales of Libra. Nisan, on the other hand, is a time of God’s lovingkindness, evidenced by His bringing the Jews out of slavery to freedom at Passover. Even though the Laws of nature are fixed and unbending, God broke those rules in Nisan and made miracles. Justice is related to rules. Love goes beyond the rules. Incidentally, the word for miracle in Hebrew is “ness” which is grammatically related to the word Nisan.

In being the first of the months, Nisan has newness as part of its essence. It brings newness into the world each year. The sages tell us that God designed the world in Tishrei and brought it into physical reality in Nisan. The springtime shows us the nature of Nisan by bursting forth with leaves on trees, flowers, etc. Another indication or expression of Nisan’s newness is the fact that the movable tabernacle that the Jews carried with them through the desert after they left Egypt was dedicated on the first of Nisan. Also, the redemption from the Babylonian exile started in Nisan. This month is a time of beginnings.

The Torah’s account of creation in the beginning of Genesis teaches another aspect of Nisan. God fashioned the universe by making ten statements. “And God said…” Obviously God is non corporeal and the idea of speaking is not part of His definition. The Torah is using speech as a metaphor. Speaking is a form of creating. Thoughts are formulated, organized, and articulated through the mouth. According to the kabbalists, the mouth and speech are symbols of this month. Each month of the year is connected to a different human action. Nisan’s human action is “speech”. Similarly, the holiday of Nisan, Passover, is spent speaking about the exodus from Egypt. It is a night of talk. It’s the only holiday with an accompanying text to be read out loud. Some intriguing aspects of the Passover account are related to speech. For example, one commentary states that the suffering the Jews went through in Egypt was a punishment for gossiping. The Torah also mentions a conversation between Moses and God where Moses says,” I have difficulty speaking (don’t send me to speak to Pharaoh)” (Exodus 4:10). The kabbalists note that the word for Passover in Hebrew, Pesach, can be broken up into two words Peh Sach, which means “a mouth speaks”.

On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses a written law, the Torah. He also gave him an oral law, the Mishna. Eventually the oral law was written down in Babylonia. Today the oral law with its explanation is known as the Talmud. In Kabbalah, Nisan is related to the oral law. The Talmud not only addresses the Jewish way of life as it is to be lived in the Diaspora, but is the greatest example itself of Judaism’s survival amongst the other nations. It is even written in Aramaic, a foreign tongue. It contains many references to the relationships between Jews and non-Jews. The Talmud is broken up into 60 tractates. The tractate that deals with the principles of Passover, quite ironically, begins with a lengthy section on how to make one’s speech holy. Parenthetically, Babylonia has an interesting connection with speech. According to tradition, that was the location of the Tower of Babel, where God confused language. (Genesis 11:1-9)

In conclusion, the mystical influences of the month that we can tap into are newness, creation, and bringing things in our life from idea to concrete reality. We all have plans that we’d like to see come to fruition. Identify what you would like to have as part of your life and use Nisan as the time to make the first concrete step towards that goal. That’s the opportunity of the month.


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