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In this week’s parsha, the Torah begins.  Or, so argues Rashi in his famous opening comment to the Torah (on Bereishit/Genesis 1:1).  He asks: “Why didn’t the Torah start with החדש הזה לכם – This month is for you (Shmot/Exodus 12:2), where the first commandment is given to the people of Israel as a whole?”  While both Rashi and many since him have found meaning in the book of Bereishit that has kept it as a key part of our canon, Sforno shows us another dimension that strengthens the force of Rashi’s (rhetorical) question.  What does it mean “this month is for you“?  Sforno thinks that this initial communal commandment is significant for marking the first month that truly belongs to the Israelites.  Unlike the previous 5,160 months of slavery, beginning with the first Pesach the Israelites own their time , to do with as they wish – or, as Hashem commands.  Of course, Rashi’s initial question amounted to asking why a story does not begin with the (first) climax, as the meaning of our parsha would be lost if we had not been familiar with the stories that led the Israelites to be enslaved and in such dire need of freedom.  Sforno offers us the context, by highlighting that this is not just the scene of the first communal mitzvah, but the first time in Jewish history when such a commandment could be given.  I do not think that it is a coincidence that the first thing that Hashem commands the Israelites to do with their new-found freedom is to mark their time monthly (to be followed by a host of ways of marking it daily, weekly, yearly, etc.).  What greater way to say publicly that they are no longer slaves.

Ownership of time

Is a sign of our freedom

And so we mark it

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