May this month be an end to our suffering

As we slowly but surely approach the holiday of Purim, Jewish people around the world celebrated the second Rosh Chodesh Adar over the past two days. In nearly all synagogues in Israel and a select few outside, the congregants concluded Mussaf according the traditional tefilah text of the Vilna Ga’on (commonly known by its all-too-misleading misnomer, Nusach Sefard) with the words:

וִיהִי הַחדֶשׁ הַזֶה סוף וְקֵץ לְכָל צָרותֵינוּ. תְּחִלָּה וָראשׁ לְפִדְיון נַפְשֵׁנוּ.
And may this month be the end and termination of our strife, the beginning and starting point of the redemption of our (national soul)

Given that we are in a Jewish leap year, where an extra month of Adar is added to ensure that Pesach is celebrated during the spring (and to avoid the lack of a leap year in the Muslim calendar which causes their holy month of Ramadan to be commemorated at a different time each year), one would be forgiven for thinking they are seeing double in this prayer. However, this sentence, recited only in Nusach Sefard, is said every single Rosh Chodesh, and always includes the double wording of “קץ” and “סוף,” and “תחילה” and “ראש.” What could be the meaning of this seemingly unnecessarily verbose prayer?

Rav Teichtel in Em Habanim Semecha (Perek 3, Ot 46, Page 237), asks our questions and begins to answer it with a short lesson in Hebrew vocabulary, comparing these seemingly redundant phrases. When an anglophile tries to translate the words “סוף” and “קץ,” it’s often difficult to see a difference because both roughly mean “end.” However, just as the Eskimos have fifty words for snow (as per Franz Boas’s controversial study in the 1880’s), and there are least five synonyms for killing infidels in Arabic, there are two vastly different ways of saying end in ancient Hebrew- “סוף,” which means a temporary, indefinite end; and “קץ” which is an end with a capital “E”, the final end. Likewise, the same principal is applied to “תחילה” and “ראש”- the former means “a” beginning, and the latter “the” beginning.

Rav Teichtel elaborates that in Jewish history, after our people are hit with national difficulties in the lands of the nations and have to leave, there is always a question of what to do next. With Hashem’s help, there is always an end to the צרות, as He fulfills His promise which read on Pesach every year: “שלא אחד בלבד עמד עלינו לכלותינו… והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילנו מידם.” The only question is in what way are our צרות ending; will it be a “סוף” or “קץ”? Until now, our ancestors’ salvation has always been in the form of a “סוף,” with our people being redeposited in another enemy’s land, biding our time until more צרות will force us to move again. The only way to break this infinite loop of tragic Jewish history would be for a “קץ,” not a “סוף.” But, we obviously have no direct control over this. How can we finally merit a “קץ לכל צורותינו”?

Rac Teichtel answers that a “קץ לכל צורותינוn” can only come through a “תחילה וראש לפדיון נפשינו.”  What exactly is this? To quote the words of the Rav directly:

והכוונה שבקתך שאתה מבקש שיהיה קץ לצרות ולא יבואו עוד לעולם, תלוי בך ובעצמך במה שתעשה לעיקר בעבודתך שתתחיל לעבוד מחר, אחר שעברו הצרות… אם תעשה לראש ולעיקר את פדיון נפשך, היינו שכל עבודתך תהיה לטובת פדיון נפשיך ונפש האומה, שהוא בנין ארצינו הקדושה, שרק על ידה תפדה נפש אומתינו הקדושה … אז יהיה לבך נכון ובטוח שיהיה קץ לצרותינו עד עולם.

“פדיון נפשינו” is not one action in it of itself, but rather a mindset. Once the clouds of war have passed and life has settled back into a rhythm in the Jews’ latest “home away from home”; this is the time to implement “פדיון נפשינו,” by devoting our lives to “redeeming” not only our lives, but the lives of all of the Jewish People. Only through dedicating our lives to “בנין ארצינו הקדושה,” which is the only way redeem ourselves on our national scale, can we ever hope to make the jump from “סוף” to “קץ” and reach the end, with a capital “E,” to all of our suffering forever.

As we jump from the first to the second month of Adar, amid five months of nonstop terrorism, we as a people desperately need to jump from the first type of “end” to the second. As צרות become worse for the Jewish People both in Israel and abroad, and reality is finally starting to set in that life will not be getting more peaceful for Jews anywhere in the near future, it is clear that we are again approaching a time when our people will have to be displaced to a new land. As we have for two thousand years, we are hoping that this will be a “קץ לכל צורותינו” and not just a “סוף.”

However, for the first time in our history, approaching this inevitable juncture, we are not completely helpless. The efforts of countless forward-thinking Jews following the last “סוף” have created a haven for the Jewish People in the land of our forefathers, a true “ראש לפדיון נפשינו.” Thanks to their selfless determination for self-determination, the choice between “סוף” and “קץ” is a decision that is 100% in our own hands. All we need to do is take the jump, make the small sacrifices from  our own נפשות for the sake of “נפש האומה,” whether they be financial, comfort, familial, or cultural, for בנין ארצינו הקדושה.

With Hashem’s help, may each of us pursue “פדיון נפשינו” so that we all will, individually and collectively, merit a fulfillment of our prayers of this month being the “סוף וְקֵץ לְכָל צָרותֵינוּ. תְּחִלָּה וָראשׁ לְפִדְיון נַפְשֵׁנוּ.”

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.