This Shabbat, We Do Not Bless the New Month

On the Shabbat that precedes each new month on the Jewish calendar, we usually recite a special prayer (Birkat Ha-Chodesh) blessing the upcoming month.  There is one exception: the Shabbat that precedes Rosh Hashanah. Why?

The simplest answer has to do with the reason why the rabbis established Birkat Ha-Chodesh in the first place.  Among other reasons and commemorations, the prayer was established in order to publicize the day on which Rosh Chodesh (the new month) falls that week.  In addition to its relevance for anyone keeping a calendar, there are special practices for the day of Rosh Chodesh.  The rabbis identified Shabbat as the day on which the greatest number of people usually gather in the synagogue, and so it was the obvious day to choose for announcing when the new month begins.  The first day of Tishrei, however, is Rosh HaShanah.  Most observant Jews have that date marked in their calendar long before the preceding Shabbat – it would be superfluous to make such an announcement on Shabbat!

Many have suggested other reasons, but I am especially inspired by a novel idea of Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain, the second Sochatchover Rebbe, in his Shem Mishmuel.  He observes that the Shabbat which precedes Rosh Chodesh naturally belongs to the previous month.  Therefore, one effect of Shabbat Mevarchim is that it connects one month to the next.  It draws some of the sanctity of Shabbat into the new month.  Rosh Hashanah, however, commemorates God’s creation of the world ex nihilo.  He created the entire world from nothing.  Symbolically, we wish to imitate God’s creation of the world by creating our new year from nothing.  We do not bless the new month so as to leave any baggage from it behind us, and create our new year without any connection to the previous one.

In truth, we have many accomplishments from the last year that we want to bring with us into the new one.  However, there are things we did in 5778 we are not proud of.  There are things we could have done better and can do better in 5779.  The Jewish calendar offers us this otherwise unnatural opportunity to begin anew.  Should we wish, Rabbi Bornsztain reminds us, we can begin our year with a blank slate just as God began His world with one, and we ought to afford those around us the opportunity to do so as well.  Let us use this Shabbat, on which we will not bless the new month, as a time to reflect on what we’d like to make a clean break from and leave behind in 5778.  What relationships do we want to nurture better this year?  Where do we wish to focus our energies, efforts, and time?  How can we be better people and better Jews?  Let’s do what we can to make 5779 a happy, healthy, and sweet new year filled with love, caring, kindness, productivity, rest, mitzvot, blessing, and peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Roy Feldman is Rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob in Albany, New York. Prior to that, he was Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City and taught Judaic studies at the Ramaz Upper School. He has studied at and holds degrees from Yeshivat Petach Tikva, Columbia University, and Yeshiva University. Rabbi Feldman believes that a rabbi’s primary role in the twenty-first century is to articulate, embody, and exemplify the reasons why traditional Judaism remains relevant today.
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