Thoughts on Daf 8, Rosh Hashana
by Susan Suna
On Daf 8 in Rosh Hashana we discuss starting points, the Rosh Hashana for many events. We look at when the year begins for the cycles of the sun and the moon, for agricultural mitzvot, for kings and thus for dating contracts and more. Going through the daf, I charted the items listed and their Rosh Hashana:
The first of Tishrei is Rosh Hashana for Ma’aser Behemah, Ma’aser Dagan, Non-Jewish kings, Cycles of the sun and moon, The creation of the world, Judgement, Shemitah, Yovel, Years
While Nisan is the first of the months and Rosh Hashana for Jewish kings.
It is clear that Tishrei is the leading month for new yearly beginnings. Looking at the above list it appears that the natural cycle of the world of creation from celestial cycles to agriculture cycles begins in Tishrei. Tishrei also contains the interaction between Hashem and all people. As Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak explains the verse in Deuteronomy 11:12; from the beginning of the year judgment is passed as to what will happen at the end of the year.
With Tishrei having so many beginnings, why isn’t it also the first month? Why does the Jewish calendar separate years and months. Our daf makes it very clear that there is a separation and that months and years are distinctive entities: We “do not derive the meaning of the word “year” where months are not mentioned with it from the word “year” that appears in the verse where months are mentioned with it.”
To better understand the distinction, I went back to the verse in Shemot 12:2 that states: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” The Hizkuni points out that Nisan is the first month FOR YOU and not for other nations who count the months according to the stars. From now Am Yisrael would count the months from Nisan, from when we were freed from Egypt in order to remember the good that Hashem did for us. But note that this is a change and that originally, from Adam, Tishrei was the first month.
Similarly, the Ramban on this verse explains that החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים means that we will count this as the first month and the next month as the second and so on so that as we count each month, we will be reminded of the great miracle Hashem did for us. We will recall Hashem redeeming us from slavery in Egypt. That is why in the Torah the months don’t have names. According to the Yerushalmi, when we returned to Israel from Bavel, the names of the months made aliyah with us. At first we counted the months from the miracle of the Exodus and now we count months as it says in Yermiyahu (16, 14-15) from when Hashem brought Bnei Yisrael back from the northern land. In the same way the months reminded us of the first redemption so too they remind us of the second.
It appears that the role of the counting of the months is beyond that of the natural yearly cycle. The counting of the months is an ongoing reminder to Am Yisrael, as well as to the Jewish king for whom the years of his reign start in Nisan, of our special, timeless, relationship with Hashem by recalling the miraculous redemptions we experienced. Perhaps this is the inspiration for the beautiful Tefilah that we say when we please the new month. A prayer filled with hope for the upcoming days including that of the final redemption.