ראשי חדשים לעמך נתת, זמן כפרה לכל תולדותם" - מוסף לראש חודש"
This phrase from the Mussaf prayer for Rosh Chodesh poetically describes the beginning of the Jewish months as a special time for renewal. But we need to "learn it up" to appreciate its beauty, particularly the wording at the end "לכל תולדותם." The word , תולדות (toldot or toldos) is primarily translated in one of two ways: either offspring, or chronicles. It's root is ולד, baby, as in the word הולדה, birth, and יום הולדת, birthday. It's also found as in the verse:
"אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ בְּהִבָּרְאָם בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת יְקוָק אֱלֹקים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם"
(These are the chronicles of heaven and earth upon their creation, on the day Hashem the Lord made earth and heaven.)1
The connecting line between the word's two meanings is something profound. Briefly, it is the incredible power human beings have to produce something eternal in this world. When a person bears offspring, he is in a sense extending his life in the world. His children carry on his legacy, and so do their children after them and so on. But that is not the only way we live on. Our actions also take on a life of their own and become immortalized. One source for this idea is a Rashi on the following verse:
(These are the offspring of Noach. Noach was a righteous man):
Rashi: "To teach you, that the main ,תולדות of the righteous are good deeds."2
The offspring, the main thing which comes out of a righteous person that lives on forever are his good deeds. The actions he does daily, and the way he uses his time in this world takes on an independent existence that endures.
That's what we want to renew on Rosh Chodesh. The word Chodesh, חודש, comes from the word חדש, new. So Rosh Chodesh is a time given to the Jewish people to create the world anew.3 The source is the verse:
"החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים"
(This month is for you the head of all months.)4
The Rabbis expound upon this verse's words "for you" as the source for the halachic obligation to declare the first day of each month based on astrological observation. As opposed to the days of the week, and Shabbos, which initiate automatically, the new month does not start unless it is declared by the Jewish people.5 That means, the 7 days of the week are Hashem's creation, but the monthly cycle of time is the Jewish people's creation. That's why our verse, "This month is for you the head of all months," is referring to Nissan, the month when the Jews left Egypt. It marks the birth of the Jewish Nation.
Rashi startlingly says on the first word of the Torah, בראשית, that if it were not for certain lessons for all people from the beginning of the Torah, it should have started instead with החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים "This month is for you." Until then there was Hashem's history. From then began another time line, the chronicles of the Jewish people.6. 7.
It's nearly impossible to express in words where or how these actions become legacy. Even the smallest deeds which seemingly go unnoticed, uncelebrated, and even forgotten to memory. Who can say where they keep the stuff of legend. Those untold stories, and stories that even once uttered by human lips leave so much lacking. As for me, I venture to say we know, somehow.
And so says the Mussaf prayer, as we face our creator each month and declare...
(Heads of the Months You gave to Your Nation, a time to start clean for all of their תולדות.)
1. בראשית ב ד
2. בראשית ו ט
3. על פי מה ששמעתי מרב משה שפירה זצק"ל. וכן התיחס את זה למה שדרשו רבותינו אין כל חדש תחת השמש; אבל למעלה יש, על ידי תורה ומצות
4. שמות יב ב
4. שמות יב ב
5. ראה ס’ "שבת מלכתא" על קבלת שבת, שמסביר ההבדל בין הכנסת שבת לי"ט
6. מהרל, דרוש נאה לשבת הגדול
7. הזכיר לי חבר בן תורה) בן עזאי אומר זה "זה ספר תולדות האדם" זה כלל גדול בתורה)
[ב"ר כ"ד ז]
[ב"ר כ"ד ז]