By Rabbi Yonah Burr
Through the power of the Torah and Mitzvos, the Jewish people can transcend nature
ויאמר ד' אל משה ואל אהרן בארץ מצרים לאמר החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה (שמות י"ב: א,ב)
And Hashem said to Moshe and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying; this month shall be for you the first of the months, it is the first for you of the months of the year
This is actually the very first Mitzva given to the Jewish People as a Nation. Every month, as the moon completes its orbit around the earth, it is ‘renewed’; the Beis Din now has a mitzva to sanctify it, thus declaring the new month.
Rashi, citing the Medrash, relates that Moshe was unsure about this Mitzva, so Hashem showed him an image of the moon, and how to sanctify it.
On a simple level, this can be understood to mean that Moshe was unsure at precisely what point the moon is considered ‘new’, and at what point it can be sanctified.
The Story of the River Ginai
The Talmud relates that Rav Pinchos ben Yair was on his way to perform the great mitvah of ransoming captives. He reached the river Ginai, and had no way to cross. Having no other option, he declared, ‘river Ginai, split your waters to allow me to cross so I can perform the mitzvah of ransoming captives’. The waters refused to split. So Rav Pinchos declared, ‘split now, or I will decree that water will never flow through you again’; the waters immediately split, allowing Rav Pinchos to cross. He then declared, ‘split a second time to allow another Jew to cross, for he is carrying flour to bake matzos for Pesach’. Finally, he declared a third time, ‘split again to allow our Arab traveling companion to cross, so that he feels he is treated well’. The Talmud concludes, that the spitting of the river for Rav Pinchos ben Yair was a greater feat than the splitting of Yam Suf; for the splitting of the Yam Suf required the merit of Moshe and the 600,000 Jews, while the river Ginai split in the merit of Rav Pinchos alone.
The Power of Torah
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh asks, why was it that the Yam Suf required the merit of the entire nation while the river Ginai would split just for Rav Pinchos?
Answers the Ohr Hachaim, because the Yam Suf split before the Torah was given! Before we received the Torah, we were subservient to the laws of nature. It would take tremendous merit for a miracle to occur. Once the Torah was given, however, through the Torah we can transcend the laws of nature, for all of nature is subservient to the power of the Torah. Rav Pinchos ben Yair already had the Torah, and he was on his way to perform its Mitzvos. Therefore, nothing could stand in his way!
Authority Over Nature: the Beginning
The process of the laws of nature being secondary to the laws of the Torah began with the first mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh; sanctifying the new moon. The Sages are given the authority to declare the new month, establish the Yomim Tovim, and establish the length of the year. This authority symbolically represents our ability to transcend nature, which started with this mitzvah, and was finalized with the giving of the Torah.
Perhaps this is also what Hashem was showing Moshe; through the power of the Torah and mitzvos, the Jewish people can transcend nature, and have the spiritual power to rise above the world.
On a practical level as well, we as a people have the ability to refine ourselves and rise above our nature; through cleaving to the Torah, we can truly become Hashem’s treasured nation.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!