The month of Passover (Nisan) shall be the first month

The Literal Commandment

This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. (Exodus 12:2)

 

The literal commandment is for the month in which Passover falls shall be the first month of the year.

 

Messiah Says

Messiah implicitly affirmed this commandment when He spoke about the Law:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

 

Pictures of Messiah

This commandment for the month of Passover to be the "first" pictures Messiah's "first" coming into the world. When He came during the first century, His life, death, burial, and resurrection followed the pattern of the G-d's appointed times at the "first" of the year: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.

 

How Messiah Fulfilled

Although no specific reference is given in Scripture, we know Messiah obeyed the commandments completely and was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Messiah fulfilled this commandment considering the month of Passover as the first of the year.

 

Traditional Observance

The traditional understanding of this commandment is that "courts must calculate to determine when a new month begins." It is considered to be the precept of establishing the months. The religious calendar does indeed begin with Nisan, the month of Passover.

We turn once again to the Sefer HaHinnuch for greater insight on the traditional understanding and observance of this commandment:

The precept of establishing the months to sanctify months and intercalate years at the beth din (religious court) that is greatest in widsom [and] ordained with authority in the Land [of Israel], and to set the dates of the year's festivals according to that sanctification. For it is stated, This month shall be for you the beginning of months (Exodus 12:2): In other words, when you see the renewal o fthe moon, you will establish for yourselves the beginning of the month; and thus [do] even if you do not see it, once it is due to be seen according to the accepted reckoning.

This precept also includes the religious obligation to intercalate the year [by adding a lunar month when necessary]. For the fundamental reason for the precept of sanctifying each month is that the Israelites might observe the holy days of the Eternal Lord at their proper times; and the intercalation of the year is for the same fundamental reason. Indeed, apart from this verse, there is evidence in other verses of the Torah which points to the precept of intercalation. Thus it is written, You shall therefore keep this ordinance [of observing Passover] at its season [of spring] (Exodus 13:10); and so too, Observe the month of aviv, the spring (Deuteronomy 16:1).

This is the substance of the precept: Two reputable Israelites come before the beth din and testify before them [the judges of the court] that they saw the moon in its renewal. They [the judges] set the beginning of the month according to their word, by saying, "The day is hallowed!" The reason why this precept is only for the ordained [rabbinic authorities to fulfill] is that it is stated explicitly, This month shall be for you [to sanctify]- for those as great and as ordained, invested with authority as you- for this was said [by the Almighty] to Moses and Aaron.1

 

The calendar changed over time:

Originally the Hebrew calendar was used by Jews for all daily purposes, but following the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE, Jews began additionally following the imperial civil calendar, which was decreed in 45 BCE, for civic matters such as the payment of taxes and dealings with government officials.

The Hebrew calendar has evolved over time. For example, until the Tannaitic period, the months were set by observation of a new crescent moon, with an additional month added every two or three years to keep Passover in the spring, again based on observation of natural events, namely the ripening of the barley crop, the age of the kids lambs and doves, the ripeness of the fruit trees, and the relation to the Tekufah (seasons.) Through the Amoraic period and into the Geonic period, this system was displaced by mathematical rules. The principles and rules appear to have been settled by the time Maimonides compiled the Mishneh Torah in the 12th century.2

 

This fixed calendar was created by the "supreme court" of Israel: the Sanhedrin. In 358, faced with dissolution of the court because of continued persecution by the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin established the fixed calendar to guide the people of Israel through the subsequent centuries when the court could not follow the established procedure for sanctifying the months by observation.

 

Other Notes

Absent a properly authorized Sanhedrin council in the Land of Israel to specify when each month begins, we can not fully obey this commandment.

We can, however, obey the commandment by observing the month of Passover is the first month.

 

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Footnotes

1. Charles Wengrove, trans., Sefer HaChinuch (Jerusalem:Feldheim Publishers, 1984), vol 1, p93-95 [back]
2. The Hebrew Calendar, Wikipedia, taken 3/31/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_Calendar [back]

Commandment Details

  • Mishneh Torah # 120
  • Mishneh Torah Book # 3
  • Mishneh Torah Book Times
  • Mishneh Torah Category 18- Sanctification of Months
  • Reference Exodus 12:2
  • Scripture Book Exodus
  • Chapter 12
  • Verse 2
  • English This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.
  • Hebrew ב הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים: רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.
  • Greek 2 Ὁ μὴν οὗτος ὑμῖν ἀρχὴ μηνῶν, πρῶτός ἐστιν ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς μησὶν τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ.
  • Parashah 15- Bo
  • Positive/Negative Positive
  • Sefer Hachinuch # 4
  • Sef. Hach. Command The precept of establishing the month
  • Category Appointed Times
  • We can fullfill today No

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