Bo-Sanctifying Time

The verse that gives us the first mitzvah of the Torah is in our portion, Bo. The verse reads (Exodus 12:2), “This month is the head month for you, the first of the months of the year.” Rashi explains that it would have been logical for the Torah to begin at this point, since it is here that we first receive a mitzvah, but that the Torah begins from the story of creation (Genesis) for a specific reason. Rashi (based on a midrash) explains that the Torah wants to emphasize the Jewish claim to the land of Israel, and therefore it first describes the connection of the forefathers to Israel, followed by the slavery, redemption and exodus from Egypt. Only afterwards, in our weekly portion (Bo) does it give us a mitzvah – to sanctify the months – because first it wishes to establish the principle that the Jews are essentially connected to the land of Israel in such a way that no other nation can possibly be connected to Israel.

In any case, the mitzvah of sanctifying the month is called the “first” mitzvah, and that implies three advantages that it has over all the other mitzvoth. One, it indicates something about the way that the Torah was given. Two, this mitzvah brings out the special power of Torah and mitzvoth in a way that other mitzvoth don’t. And three, it expresses the ultimate goal and purpose of Torah.

The main purpose of all mitzvoth is to produce holiness in the world. The point of any mitzvah is to take an object of the world and turn it into an article of holiness. The same is true of Kiddush hachodesh – we take a day (the first of the month) that has no intrinsic holiness and turn it into a day of spiritual celebration. In so doing, we also establish the holiness of the other Jewish festivals of the year, each of which fall out on their specific date in relation to the date of the first of their respective months. By way of possibility, this is also the reason that it is the “first mitzvah” – “first” here means not only chronologically (since it is the first mitzvah that appears in the Torah), but also in level and spiritual hierarchy. While it is true that the dimensions of creation include both time and space, and the two are connected, nevertheless, time is first. It precedes space.

The proof that time precedes space is that every creation that takes place in space, producing a change in the present regarding the past. That is, before anything was created (including space), there already existed something that undergoes change by the new creation – and the change takes place in time. The very first existence (from which all other creations came) took place in the dimension of time. Kiddush hachodesh is the first mitzvah because it’s a mitzvah in the medium in which all other mitzvoth take place: time. The rabbinical court fixes the date of the first of the month in time, and time pre-supposes all creation (in the category of space) and is the beginning of creation. Only after time is established and sanctified can the conduct of man in space take place and sanctify the world. All of man’s influence upon the creation takes place within space, which itself exists within time.

However, there are some indications that the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month does not affect the entire dimension of time. First of all, even during the period of our history that the months were fixed by witnesses in front of a beit din (rabbinical court), the mitzvah of sanctification would take place only if the month arrived “in time.” If not, and it became necessary to add a day to the previous month, then the mitzvah of sanctification did not take place. Moreover, since we have now begun to fix the dates of the Jewish calendar according to mathematical calculation, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh has not taken place recently at all. Yet, the principle that the entire creation took place for the sake of the Jewish nation and for the sake of the Torah demands that both time and space require constant and thorough sanctification.

The explanation, though, is as follows. When we perform a mitzvah in space, taking an object such as an animal skin, and transforming it into an article of holiness, we affect and influence not only that article, but every article in its category. By fulfilling a mitzvah with an animal skin, for example, we elevate the entire animal kingdom. By taking an etrog and the other three species and fulfilling the mitzvoth of Succot, we elevate the entire plant kingdom. And the same is true of Kiddush hachodesh. By sanctifying the new month, we elevate the entire dimension of time. Even though we act on only a detail of each category and kingdom, our act has the power to refine and elevate the entire category. So, even though Kiddush hachodesh applies only to some months and only to the period of time when the month has sanctified by witnesses in front of a beit din, nevertheless it had the ability to affect and elevate time forever.

Now we can understand the connection between the first quarter of the Torah, and the first mitzvah. The first quarter of the Torah, recording the lives and stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs, as well the exodus, is all about sanctifying space. Rashi explained that the beginning of the Torah seeks to establish the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. It is all about bringing holiness and sanctity into the dimension of space – the land of Israel. The mitzvah of Kiddush hachodesh – sanctifying the new month – is about time. It seeks to establish the ability of the Jews to sanctify all of creation by doing a mitzvah in the realm of time. And that mitzvah occurs in the Torah in this parsha, just as the exodus from Egypt is climaxing. The plan is for the Jews to soon enter the land of Israel and fulfill mitzvoth in the category of space, but in order to do that they must first sanctify the dimension of time. And that is why Kiddush hachodesh appears in our parsha, just before the Jews prepare to leave Egypt, receive the Torah, and enter the land of Israel.

For a longer more detailed version, go to

Adopted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 26, pp. 59-68

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