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D’var Torah: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

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In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi teaches us that ‘through innovation, we can present the freshness and relevance of Judaism in our times’.

This Shabbat, while we will be reading the parashiot of Vayakhel and Pekudei, we will also have a special Shabbat called Shabbat Hachodesh and in the second Sefer Torah we’ll be reading the imperative: ‘hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim’ – this month of Nisan must be the head of the months for you.

Therefore, we have quite a remarkable system in our calendar. The year, of course, Rosh Hashana, starts with Tishrei. But Tishrei is the seventh month of the year. Nisan, which is at the time of Pesach, must always be the first month of the year. Isn’t this a totally unusual, one could even say bizarre, system for a calendar?

‘Within our Torah tradition there must be chidush, renewal, innovation’

I believe that through this tradition and this mitzvah of Hachodesh, there is an important message which emerges for us about the concept of chidush – renewal. Let me explain…

The Hebrew word for year shanah comes from the term shinun which means repetition as we have in the shema: ‘veshinantam’ – teach by rote. So the shana, the year, is all about repetition, same months, same seasons, same festivals, year in and year out. Within that year, we have chodashim – months, and the months provide us with an opportunity of chidush, of renewal.

And this is a powerful message for us in terms of our Judaism because we are blessed to have the ultimate guide to life. It’s the Torah given to us at Mount Sinai by God. And the Torah has eternal messages of value. We don’t need to change anything, God forbid, it’s all there for us: every phrase, every word, every single letter of the Torah. It’s identical from generation to generation. But within our Torah tradition there must be chidush, renewal, innovation.

Presentationally, we must match the era in which we are living.

For example, if you were to take the most successful Jewish teacher of fifty years ago and place him or her in front of a classroom of children today, if they were to use the identical methodology that they used before, that would be doomed to failure – because we have to match the times in which we are living.

‘Through chidush, through innovating new methods we can present the freshness and the relevance of Judaism for our times’

We are living at a time when in the palm of their hands our children, at the press of a button, can be mesmerised and entertained so spectacularly. So when it comes to Jewish education, we have to match that, we have to surpass that, to guarantee that through chidush, through innovating new methods we can present the freshness and the relevance of Judaism for our times.

Shanah and chodesh combined provide us with the opportunity to find that fusion between the timeless and the timely. That’s the message of Shabbat Hachodesh.

Shabbat Shalom