In this week’s parashah the Jewish people received the first mitzvah: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Shemot 12:1–2).
The First Mitzvah of Renewal
The Hebrew word for month chodesh also means new. With this first mitzvah to sanctify the new moon, we became renewed as a people. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Kohelet 1:9). In the realm of nature (under the sun) life repeats itself along its predestined orbit. Yet, through the mitzvot we can connect with the otherworldly reality beyond the sun and the realm of nature. Sefat Emet explains that through performing mitzvot, we connect with the source of life, which is continual renewal. It is our ability to renew ourselves through the mitzvot that makes us Jewish. By receiving the first mitzvah, the nation of Israel is born. Our sages teach, “A convert who converted is like a baby newly born” (Yevamot 62a). It is no wonder then, that the first mitzvah through which we became a Jewish nation is the embodiment of renewal (chodesh). Many commentators ask, why the first of the Ten Commandments reads, “I am Hashem your G-d Who has taken you out of Egypt” (Shemot 20:2), instead of, “I am Hashem your G-d Who has created you”? When G-d created the world, He created it for the sake of Israel, [imbuing Israel with the capability to bring all of humanity to perfection] (Batei Midrashot, Part 1, Rabbah d’Bereishit 4). Since the nation of Israel was born through the Exodus, it becomes indeed the purpose of creation. This is why the first of the Ten Commandments refers to the Exodus rather than to the creation.