This week’s Parshah discusses the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish nation: Kiddush HaChodesh, the Sanctification of the New Month (12:2). This mitzvah entails the Jewish court identifying the new moon via witnesses and consequently declaring exactly when the new month will commence.
What lesson is Hashem conveying to us by making this the very first mitzvah given to us as a nation? It must be to convey a very powerful message! What is it? Additionally, why was it given now, while the Jews were still in Egypt, and not at Har Sinai with the rest of the 613 mitzvos?
Mike was a world famous mountain climber. He had climbed the tallest mountains in the world, including the world's tallest mountain - Mount Everest. Mike’s close friend once asked him “Mike, what is your secret to braving the mountain? After all, the mountains that you climb are thousands of feet tall, have dangerous terrain, and even their appearance is incredibly intimidating. What gives you the confidence that you can do it?”. Mike looked his friend in the eye, and answered with a thought-provoking explanation: “when you face a mountain, you have the choice to focus on one of two things - the mountain or the MAN. If you focus solely on the sheer size of the mountain and ignore the power of the man, then you are doomed to failure. However, if you look solely inwards and focus on the strength and courage that man possesses and ignore the mountain, you can do anything! I apply this practice of mine to life in general as well. In life, you can choose to focus solely on the size of the challenges that you’re faced with and be intimidated, or you can choose to focus solely on the strength of the man and realize that you can do anything. If you focus on the latter of the two, you will find that while no challenge can overcome you, you can overcome every challenge!”.
Before we could take on the monumental task of accomplishing all of the 613 mitzvos, Hashem had to first teach us the power that He invested within each and every one of us. It is for this reason that the first mitzvah that Hashem gave us is Kiddush HaChodesh; for this mitzvah is the greatest testament to the incredible power that Hashem has invested within the Jewish nation. How? Consider the following: the Gemara (Chullin 101b, as per the explanation of the Ritva) relates that one year the Gentile authorities forbade the Jews to fast on Yom Kippur and it was impossible for them to get around the decree. What did they do? When the time for Rosh Chodesh came, the Sages simply didn't declare the new month. Since they didn't produce the kedushah (sanctity) of the new month, that year there was no Yom Kippur. Neither was there Rosh Hashana. We see from here that the mitzvah to sanctify the new month is not merely to announce when the sanctity of the new month, as well as all of the Yomim Tovim (holidays), will be. Rather, the mitzvah is for the Jewish people to CREATE the sanctity of the new month, as well as the incredible sanctity that is imbued within all of the Yomim Tovim (see Rosh Hashanah 24b-25a).
Additionally, the Midrash relates that when the Angels ask Hashem “when will You judge the fate of the entire universe for Rosh Hashanah?”, He answers them "why are you asking Me?! Let us ask the Jewish court, for that decision is solely within their hands" (ילקו״ש תהלים רמז תחלא). We learn from here that the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh is extremely distinct from the other mitzvos. While all the other mitzvos entails us obeying HASHEM’s instructions, with Kiddush HaChodesh, Hashem, as it were, molds reality according to OUR instructions.
By giving us Kiddush HaChodesh, Hashem was revealing to us that the sanctity of even the holiest holidays will be produced solely by the actions of the Jewish people (Seforno). Only once we understood the incredible "power of the man", were we properly prepared to leave Egypt and accomplish all 613 mitzvos!
It is much easier to sin or to forgo pursuing your spiritual goals when you feel that you aren't in a position to achieve spiritual greatness or that your actions don't make much of a difference. To dispel this notion, Hashem specifically gave the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh - the mitzvah which represents our indescribable potential for spiritual greatness - to the Jewish nation while they were still in Egypt, serving idols and on the lowest level of impurity in history! By doing so, Hashem was demonstrating that no matter how low we fall or how ordinary we think we are, He has and will continue to invest unconditional potential for greatness within us. He never gives up on our incredible potential to accomplish and neither should we *.
This is one of the many messages of Kiddush HaChodesh; Even if you find yourself in the most challenging of circumstances, never allow yourself to be overwhelmed or intimidated by the size of the mountain. Instead, always focus solely on the power of the MAN! This understanding is so critical to being a successful Jew that, arguably, one of the reasons why we still sanctify the month in shul even today (despite the fact that the conditions for the biblical commandment are not currently met), is in order to stay focused on this vital mentality. For as illustrated, focusing on your unconditional potential for spiritual greatness is the secret to accomplishing all of the mitzvos and essential to leading a successful life. May we all merit to do so.
* - In fact, R’ Tzadok Hakohen states that just as we have a biblical obligation to believe in the power of Hashem, we have a biblical OBLIGATION to believe in the power of man and what he is capable of accomplishing (צדקת הצדיק אות קנד׳)!