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Nisan, Iyar, and the Redemption

May 14, 2014

Rosh Hashana 10b-11a:

Rabbi Eliezer says, “In Tishri the world was created; in Tishri the Patriarchs were born; in Tishri the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were recalled; on New Year, Joseph went forth from prison; on New Year the bondage of our ancestors in Egypt ceased; in Nisan they were redeemed and in Tishrei they will be redeemed in the time to come.” Rabbi Joshua says, “… in Nisan they will be redeemed in the time to come.”

In Hebrew: בניסן נגאלו ובניסן עתידין להיגאל

What does the word ‘athidin mean? It could mean that something is going to happen in the future, hence the simple translation, above, which many, because of their belief in the advent of everything Redemption-connected as occurring suddenly and at once, interpret to be a law! That is, no form of Redemption can happen at any other time, and thus, for example, the foundinng of the State of Israel and the rest of the modern-day miracles are not what we have been waiting for because they happened in the wrong month. Such an idea is anathema to the Maimonidean school of thought, which views the Redemption as 1. a process, 2. able to happen at any time, and 3. something about which these details can not be known in advance. I have also pointed out that it seems that the Redemption is not something which will ever come about through waiting, rather, it is our duty to make it come about.

I would like to offer two new and grammatically valid understandings of this piece of rabbinic lore.

1. The sages say that it was in the merit of the commandments upheld by the Israelites in Egypt that allowed them to escape. That is, the commandments they were specifically given regarding that month: qiddush hahodesh, circumcision, and the Paschal sacrifice. Thus, in the future, it will be in the merit of that which they will do in Nisan that they will be redeemed. If the Jews once again show that the are willing to follow God’s command to offer the qorban pesah in its proper time and place, then they will merit to be redeemed. This year, they and their government failed, but God willing next year…

2. In Esther 8:13,

וְלִהְיוֹת הַיְּהוּדִים עֲתִידִים לַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, לְהִנָּקֵם מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם

athidin means ready or prepared, as in “the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themsleves upon their enemies.” Rabbi Joshua is thus saying that when Nisan rolls around, the Jews should prepare for the Redemption, which takes place early the next month. The sages ruled that during a leap year, when there are two Adars, Purim should be celebrated during the Adar preceding Nisan, in “order to join Redemption with Redemption.” It is thus fitting that another Redemption be celebrated in Iyar.

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