Reflections of redemption in Nisan, Part 2

Rosh Ha-Hodashim in Jewish Scripture and Tradition

We saw in Part 1 that rabbinic leaders created no community celebrations to mark Rosh Ha-Hodashim. For Yeshua’s disciples, this is a great advantage: We have a nearly empty arena in which to build traditions for this Milestone that are distinctly Messianic.

As always, we should build on a foundation of the Scriptures, and there we can find a surprising number of references to this date.

The Biblical Record

God’s word never gives pointless information, so we would do well to ponder the events that were recorded as happening “on the first day of the first month”:

– The Flood waters finally disappeared from the ground (Gen. 8:13).

– The Tabernacle was first set up (Exod. 40:2,17).

– Ezra began his journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:9).

– Ezra finished his investigation of the men who had married foreign wives (Ezra 10:17).

– Priests under Hezekiah began to cleanse and rededicate the Temple (2 Chron. 29:17).

– God announced that He was giving Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as wages (Ezek. 29:17).

– Ezekiel’s (future) Temple will be purified (Ezek. 45:18)

What do all these different events have in common, besides the date? We see here new beginnings, historical turning points… all following a theme of cleansing and closure. The earth emerged freed from an irreversible corruption, a Jewish leader left behind his life of exile, disobedient Jews were made accountable to the Covenant, God rewarded a king who had carried out His judgment, and three different Sanctuaries were (or will be) made ready for pure worship.

All of these can be seen as pictures showing the different results of being redeemed – in terms of both rights and responsibilities.

Rabbinic Traditions  

The absence of celebration doesn’t mean the rabbis never talked about the significance of Nisan 1 for Israel. Following are a few examples showing the unintentional (?) hints of the Messianic redemption that we experience through the New Covenant.

A new or stronger creation. As we saw in Part 1, Jewish teachers insisted that God’s activity in creating the world on Nisan 1 was stronger than any of the aspects of creation associated with Tishrei 1. And so it is with the New Creation, which God first promised through the prophets (the “Tishrei” phase) and then fulfilled through Yeshua (the “Nisan” phase). Even if someone learns to know God through the Scriptures, and/or has returned to the Land of Israel according to the promises, he is in an embryonic state of redemption. He must be “born of the Spirit” to enter the Kingdom of God and the New Creation (John 3:3-7). The teachers of Israel are supposed to know these things from what is revealed in Tanach (v.10).

The Patriarchs entered Heaven. According to a pre-existing tradition recorded in the Talmud, Avraham, Yitzhak and Yakov all died on Nisan 1. This provides interesting context for the statement in Hebrews that our faithful forefathers all considered themselves strangers in the earthly Land of Promise, because they were “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10) How fitting is the idea that they should receive that longed-for inheritance on Rosh Ha-Hodashim, the day of cleansing and closure in Scripture which God ordained to represent “the Head” of all “new things”. This idea in turn leads to Messiah – for in that Heavenly architecture built by God, we are told (Matt. 21:42, Acts 4:11, 1 Pet. 2:7) that Yeshua is the Cornerstone (Heb: “Rosh Pina”, quoting Psa. 118:22).

The Patriarchs were also portrayed (Pesiqta Rabbati 162) as interacting directly with Messiah during Nisan. “The Fathers [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] will in the future rise up in the month of Nisan” to beg Him to go and redeem their descendants. Curiously, in the story they are conscious of “the sins of our children” and that Messiah has already “suffered on their account”; now they fear He has rejected Israel because of it. For the remarkable answer Messiah gives them (and similar stories), see our collection on the Restorers of Zion site

Future Nisan miracles will dwarf the Exodus. Hassidic teaching (Sefer Ha-Yetzira) characterized the First Month as brimming with miracles, by relating its name to “nisim/miracles” and suggesting a translation of “nisan” as “miracles of miracles.” For Israel’s future, the commentary quoted God as promising: “As the days of your exodus from Egypt, I shall reveal to him wonders.” They explained that the future Redemption will be like the deliverance from Egypt, but more miraculous.

What could surpass national liberation from slavery, except spiritual liberation from slavery to sin? This expectation is reinforced by God’s oft-repeated declaration (Exod. 13:3, 13:14, 20:2; Deut. 5:6, 6:12, 8:14, 13:5, 13:10, etc.) that He has brought us “out from Egypt” AND “from the house of slaves.” Given the Jewish view that God never needlessly repeats Himself, these are taken as two deliverance experiences. Yet the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a) expected that second deliverance also in the Passover month: “in Nisan they will be redeemed in the time to come.”

The consecration of God’s dwelling place. The Mishkan (Tent of Meeting) was first erected on the first day of the First Month, the date set by God (Exod. 40:2,17). After it was cleansed, His glory covered and filled it so intensely that even Moshe could not enter it (v. 35). Many details about this structure, beginning with its name (“mishkan” comes from “lishkon/to dwell”), portray the kind of intimate dwelling place that God desires within His people. Paul makes this connection explicit (1 Cor. 6:19).

The Talmudic rabbis also taught that we are meant to be individual dwelling places for God. “Since the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One has no place in this world except for the four Amot of Halacha” (Brachot 8a). “Four amot” are roughly 1 square meter, interpreted as the space occupied by a human torso. But we know that “halacha”, performance of the Law, will not make the human temple a fit dwelling place for Him. How do we know? The original Mishkan needed to be “atoned” by blood and “sanctified” by oil (Lev. 8) before God was willing to inhabit it.

To paraphrase Paul (1 Cor. 9:9-10), is God concerned about inanimate objects, or about us? Torah’s message: Yes, we are designed to be God’s Mishkan; but no, we cannot serve that purpose until we are cleansed with the Blood of Messiah’s atonement and set apart by the Oil of God’s Spirit. Both are essential in the gospel (Acts 2:38, 8:15, 19:2)

According to Torah, God’s indwelling Presence depended on one more thing: the Olat Tamid, the daily sacrifice. This was the first offering commanded for the newly dedicated altar, and note the amazing promise attached:

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one-year-old lambs each day, continuously…. And I will dwell among [or, within*] the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am YHVH their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among [or, within*] them; I am YHVH their God. (Exod. 29:38-46

*The Hebrew word here, unlike the more definite “bekerev/among” (בקרב), is “betoch” (בתוך) which can mean both “among” and “within”. It’s an unmistakable reference – twice – to some unique power of the Tamid (not attributed to any other sacrifice) to make Israel a fit dwelling place for their God.

The Mishkan’s first use and the Tamid command were logically assumed by the sages to have happened on the same day, Nisan 1. As we already saw, the command concerning the Passover lamb also came with the command to mark Nisan 1. It’s no coincidence that the Tamid and the Passover lamb both belong to the “first things” of Nisan, and now we will explore that connection.