The last of the four special Sabbaths instituted to prepare for the holidays of Purim and Passover is called Shabbos HaChodesh, the Sabbath of the new moon.
The Hebrew calendar follows the moon, and Nissan, the month in which Passover is celebrated is the first month of the year.
Why do we follow a lunar calendar? Because the moon goes through phases. Unlike the sun, the moon does not remain constant in size, but waxes and wanes with the flow of time.
People are also not constants. Our lives are always at flux. We grow, and occasionally we experience ebbing. And so we associate the monthly and yearly cycles which guide our Divine service with a celestial entity that is linked to transition.
The month begins with sighting of the new moon after it has disappeared from our view for a few nights towards the end of the month. As soon as the new moon was sighted, people would rush to the High Court in Jerusalem and the Sages would proclaim the new month.
Why do we use the expression "the new moon"?
The Sages knew that the moon continues to exist at the time of its conjunction with the sun. The fact that it cannot be seen does not detract from its being. Why then did they refer to it as the new moon?
Because they wanted to emphasize that what is most important is not merely possessing a potential, but using it.
The existence of the moon in and of itself is not important to us. When does it become significant? When it begins reflecting light to earth.
Similar concepts apply in the personal sphere.
The existence of a potential is not enough; that potential must be revealed. Each one of us has a soul which is "an actual part of G-d," and on a more particular level, we have all been endowed with a unique set of personal gifts. What is important, however, is not just having these potentials, but using them.
How have we demonstrated the G-dliness inherent to our nature in our lives? Have we let our potentials shine forth, capitalizing on the gifts we have been given? Or have we allowed these qualities to remain dormant, without expression?
The same is true in the world at large. G-d created this world to be a dwelling for Him, and every element of existence has a specific dimension of G-dhood to communicate. But these are merely potentials. The task of making this potential manifest within actual reality has been entrusted to us.
The special Torah reading of this week teaches us that we have the capacity to infuse "newness" into our lives. We can break the patterns of the past, no matter how deeply they are ingrained in our natures and habits.
The potential exists. Within each of us, and within the world at large, there are untold reservoirs of good. It is up to us to decide to take destiny into our hands and reveal that potential.
Making that decision is like the first glimmerings of the new moon which will ultimately grow into a glowing orb of light.
Looking to the Horizon
Maimonides writes: "One should not entertain the notion that in the Era of the Redemption any element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Instead, the world will continue according to its pattern.... There is no difference between the current age and the Era of Mashiach, except [Israel's] subjugation to the [gentile] kingdoms."
There are other sages who differ with Maimonides and maintain that Mashiach will be a miracle worker and that the Era of the Redemption will be characterized by supernatural wonders.
This difference of opinion between our sages is worthy of more detailed discussion. It is, nevertheless, important to appreciate what lies at the base of Maimonides' approach.
What he is telling us is that our desire for the Redemption should not be other-worldly. We should not be trying to escape reality, but rather to appreciate it to its fullest.
Our desire for Redemption is not a yearning to stop being ourselves and be something else, but rather a search how to be the most complete people we can be, and build the most perfect society we can.
Mashiach initiates a process of growth that spurs all of us to tap to the fullest the Divine potential invested within us and within the world at large.