החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים – This month, the month of Nissan, shall be for you the first of the months. So opens parashat HaChodesh. It is the first mitzvah given to the Children of Israel, to sanctify the months – כזה ראה וקדש – like this, when the moon, in the midst of darkness, appears once again, like this shall you see and sanctify.
When God comes to redeem Benei Yisrael, God demands their active participation – take the paschal lamb, slaughter it this way, place the blood on the lintel and door posts, eat it this way – be part of this process. The redemption will come not just through My actions alone, but when you – individually and a people – partner with Me to bring it about.
The first step in this is החדש הזה לכם – Do not let yourself be swept away by the tides of time. Take note of the time you are in, see that things are different today then they were yesterday. Take control of the time you are in. Don’t let it define you – you must define it. You must find the light and sanctify it. כזה ראה וקדש – like this you should see and sanctify.
We must sanctify the new moon. But in truth, the new moon is really the old moon. The new in and of itself is not holy. Judaism does not believe that new necessarily equals improved. But the new can be holy if it is true to, and an expression of, the old. As Rav Kook so beautifully puts it: “we must know the full depth of the greatness of the old, and know how the new constantly walks together with it and makes it whole.” We must strive for a time when הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש, The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified.
To many, this is a shocking idea. If the old, traditional ways are good, then innovation is bad. And if new is good, then why not jettison the old? Indeed, we are told, משה נתקשה בלבנה, Moshe was troubled regarding the sanctification of the moon. Does the sanctity come from God – then the old is good – or does it come from us – and then only what is new is good?
The answer, of course, is both. The moon’s light comes from God, we see it, we interpret its significance, we sanctify it. Indeed, this is the Oral Law, this is the Torah she’b’al Peh. It is a partnering with God. It is taking, listening, submitting to God’s word, but it is also understanding, interpreting, and applying it. The moon is constantly renewing. Dynamic, vibrant life – vibrant religious life – requires constant rebirth. And we must be part of this. This is our privilege, this is our mandate.
Our greatest religious leaders understood this mandate. Rav Kook saw Zionism, saw secular Zionism, and declared it holy. Rav Soloveitchik saw women’s study of the Talmud and declared it holy. Where would we be today if they had seen these new phenomena as dangerous, as threatening, as evil? Thank God this was not the case. Thank God they understood, they modeled, כזה ראה וקדש.
When Ruth Caldron, a secular Israeli woman member of the Knesset, got up in the Kenesset and taught a passage from the Talmud, drawing from it lessons of mutual respect and collaboration, lesser minds quibbled over whether secular Jews should study Talmud. That is not our response. No. Our response is to see this as a new flowering of Torah, as the tremendous inspiration that it is. Our response is כזה ראה וקדש.
What was our response to the idea of professional rabbinic training, to rigorous pastoral counseling training? כזה ראה וקדש.
What was our response to the possibility of organ donation? כזה ראה וקדש.
What was our response to the desire for the fullest possible participation of women in leadership and ritual life? כזה ראה וקדש.
What was our response to inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters? To inclusion of people with disabilities? To our obligation to build bridges, not walls? To our responsibility to all of Klal Yisrael? To our responsibility to כל יושבי תבל? Again, כזה ראה וקדש.
Everyone here this evening is here because they know this truth. They know that not everything new is good, that one must be discerning – כזה ראה. But they also know Orthodoxy, that Torah, that Judaism must be constantly renewed if it is to remain vibrant, if it is to remain alive.
We are deeply grateful to you, our supporters, who have shared with us in this vision through these many years making our dream a reality. And we are deeply grateful to and proud of you, our students and musmakhim. It is this vision that brought you to YCT, it is this vision that shaped your religious growth and your professional training, and it is this vision that you will carry with you to your various communities. Teach them a Torah that is ancient and that is new, a tradition that is alive, a faith that is true and that is relevant. Bring new life to existing communities and bring Yiddishkeit to places that have none. Help bring us closer to a world where הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש.
The central mitzvah of the Seder is not to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt, but to retell it. To make it our own. To bring ourselves into the story, to see ourselves as if we left Egypt, and then to bring the story into our lives, to ask ourselves about its relevance and meaning, to have it animate our present and our future. Our mitzvah, on the seder night and always, is nothing less than כזה ראה וקדש, to see and to sanctify, to live a life of Torah and mitzvot that is new and old, that is always renewing, always bringing light and sanctity into our lives.