Parashat Vayikra is the first Torah portion of Sefer Vayikra – the book of Leviticus. Many years the reading of this portion coincides with the Shabbat of parashat HaChodesh, the fourth of the four special Sabbaths that precede Passover (The year that this article originally appeared, it was also the day of Rosh Chodesh Nisan). The maftir (additional) Torah reading for this Shabbat is taken from Exodus Chapter 12, beginning with ‘This month shall be for you the first of all the months…’ the verses are referring to two distinct ideas: Firstly, the commandment of the sanctification of the New Moon; and second, that the month of Nisan should be the beginning of the year, the ‘head of the months.’
This Shabbat, upon which we will be reading these verses, is itself also the day of Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month of Nisan! It all comes together this Shabbat and it’s a double homecoming celebration. It’s a homecoming for the Al-mighty, because the Shechina, the Divine Presence, rests in the Tabernacle, which was dedicated on the first day of Nisan! And on that day, our sages teach, ‘the earth was glad and the heavens rejoiced’ (Ps. 96) because G-d’s will and purpose for creation – that He should have an abode down below – that He should be welcomed by man – was fulfilled.
The book of Vayikra begins with a still, small call to Moshe, from the Tent of Meeting, instructing him to give over the understanding of the Temple offerings to the Children of Israel. The program of the korbanot (offerings) is about constantly coming closer to G-d by realizing how precious it is to be human and striving to choose good and overcome our own animal instincts.
But this Shabbat, Shabbat of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, is also a homecoming for man, for Nisan is the month of Redemption. Our sages teach that ‘in Nisan we were redeemed and in Nisan we will be redeemed in the future.’ Israel’s Exodus from Egypt brought spiritual freedom in its highest sense to mankind, and ultimately, the great Redemption of all mankind that will eclipse even the miracles of the going out of Egypt (Micha 7:15), will lead to the Holy Temple once again becoming the ‘house of prayer for all nations’ (Is. 56). Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, a blessed month of Nisan!