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Bo 5780

Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING!  Have you ever wondered: "What was the first thing that God created?" As the first thing created would define everything else that came after, it would have to be essential to this world and everything in it.

The first statement in the Torah is "In the beginning," which tells us that the first thing created was the concept of time. Time was created first because it is God's gift to the world and the most valuable thing we have; not our families or loved ones, and definitely not our possessions or any other tangible object. Time represents what we can become - it is the ultimate definition of how we actualize our potential. We use time to define ourselves.

Have you ever been curious about the true measure of a person? Study what they do with their available free time. That is, we all have responsibilities - eat, sleep, taking care of ourselves and our families and earning a living. But what do we do with the free time we have? Do we spend it on mindless activities or exploits or do we invest it in becoming better human beings or improving the lives of others? How we spend this time defines us.

This is a life lesson for all of humanity, though scarcely anyone seems to appreciate the real value of time. Procrastination is almost an art form for most people. How often do we say, "I'll start my diet tomorrow. I'll make up with my brother next week. I'll start saving for my retirement next year. I'll start exercising next month"?

Of course, if we don't appreciate the value of our own time then we aren't going to appreciate anyone else's either. We frequently arrive late to appointments, meetings, and other events. Then, while waiting for the late arrivals, people use the expression "I am just killing time." What a horrible concept!

When I was in business school the motto was, "Time is money!" What a terribly wrong statement. Time is infinitely more valuable than money - and I'll prove it to you. If you run out of money you can always get more money, but when you're out of time ... it's game over. There is no tomorrow.

Have you ever heard someone say about a person arriving late that "he's on Jewish time"? Would it surprise you to know that there actually is a "Jewish time"? (Here in South Florida there is something known as "Jewish Latin Time" - a true double whammy. As an example of Jewish Latin Time: I once went to a wedding in Panama at the time listed on the invitation. When I got there, the chain was still around the catering hall's doors. About twenty minutes later a guard showed up to unlock the door - and none of the guests arrived for another hour and a half.)

In this week's Torah reading we find the first mitzvah that God gave the nation of Israel. Would you believe that it also has to do with time? Not only that, but God actually gifted the Jewish people the ability to define time. Allow me to explain.

The first mitzvah that God gave the Jewish nation is that of establishing when the new month begins. This is very significant as it means that the Jewish people can determine what day is holy (e.g. what day Yom Kippur falls out upon) and what day is not. God imbues those days with holiness based on our determination. Thus we are partners with God in how the world is managed. It is a truly remarkable concept and that is why it was the first mitzvah given to the Jewish nation.

The actual process is actually pretty incredible. Would you believe that for 3,350 years the Jewish people knew the EXACT length of a lunar month? (The exact length of a lunar month wasn't established by NASA until 1964 - but we had the precise knowledge for about 3,300 years before this "discovery.")

The exact length of a lunar month was a secret that God shared with Moses - a lunar month is exactly 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 ? of a second. You read that right: For thousands of years, way before the invention of a digital stopwatch, the Jewish people have been calculating time precisely to a third of a second. That is pretty astounding.

The actual process involved witnesses coming to the high court in Jerusalem and testifying that they saw the "new moon" (the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar calibrated to stay in lockstep with the lunar year, as I will explain below). They would have to explain where in the sky and exactly at what time they saw it and the high court, which had an expertise in astronomy and knew the precise length of a lunar month, would decide whether or not to accept the testimony and declare the beginning of a new month.

About 1,600 years ago, in the 4th century CE, Hillel II created a perpetual calendar as he foresaw the ceasing of the Sanhedrin (the high court), which meant there would no longer be anyone to decree the beginning of the new month.

Perhaps you have heard people commenting that Rosh Hashanah comes out early this year? Ever wonder why the date shifts each year according to the Gregorian calendar? The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar comprising 365.24 days. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar comprising 354.37 days (not coincidentally, the numerical value for the Hebrew word for year "shana" is 355), which is adjusted to the solar year. Thus, there are roughly 11 days less in the lunar year than the solar year.

Why do we adjust our calendar with the solar calendar? Because the Torah commands that Passover comes out in the spring (Deut. 16:1). If the calendar was not adjusted, then Passover would continually be 11 days earlier each year; thus occurring in the winter, then the fall, then the summer. Therefore, seven times in the nineteen year cycle, an additional month (Adar 2) is added to the usual twelve months of the year. The addition of this month (which we added last year) ensures that Passover will occur in the spring.

Back to Jewish time. Believe it or not, the length of an hour is variable in Jewish time! The Talmud directs us to say the shema by the end of the third hour of the day and to pray the morning prayers (Shacharit) by the end of the fourth hour of the day. The hour is calculated by dividing the hours of sunlight by 12. Hence, if there are 13 hours of sunlight in the day, then each Jewish hour is 65 minutes long. This would be important for knowing the final time for prayers or any other activity which has a time-based deadline.

There is still much to say on this subject but I will leave you with a final thought written by Rabbi Kalman Packouz OBM in a previous Shabbat Shalom piece.

"Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the 'tomorrow.' You must live in the present on today's deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today!"


Torah Portion of the Week

Bo, Exodus 10:1 - 13:16

This week we conclude the ten plagues with the plagues of locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born. The laws of Passover are presented, followed by the commandment to wear tefillin, consecrate the first-born animal, and redeem one's first born son. The Torah tells us that at some time in the future your son will ask you about these commandments and you will answer: "With a show of power, God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, God killed all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike. I, therefore, offer to God all male first-born (animals) and redeem all the first-born of sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes (tefillin), for with a strong hand the Almighty removed us from Egypt" (Ex. 13:15).


Candle Lighting Times

January 31
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:36
Guatemala 5:42 - Hong Kong 5:53 - Honolulu 6:02
J'Burg 6:42 - London 4:32 - Los Angeles 5:04
Melbourne 8:16 - Mexico City 6:10 - Miami 5:45 - Moscow 4:42
New York 4:53 - Singapore 7:01 - Toronto 5:08

Quote of the Week

Time is what we want most-
but what we use worst.
--  William Penn



In Loving Memory of my Mother

Shirley Marcus

dedicated by Neil J. Marcus



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