Peter Pan the hero of James Barry’s book of the same title is an eternal child who never grows up. His character represents everything that is good in and the innocence of childhood as well as its mischievousness. His opponent, Captain Hook is the antithesis of Peter Pan. He is the leader of the pirates and is mortally terrified of the crocodile that carries within its belly the ticking clock. Hook, unlike Peter, knows that he has no control over time and he is afraid of the hours and days, which are racing onward. Peter Pan will never grow up, he has all the time is the world, and he does not even have to claim responsibility for his clock that the crocodile swallowed. We too do not have any control over time. The clock hands are turning and there is no way to stop them.
In our parasha, Parashat Bo, we learn about the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. This is the plague that finally breaks Par’oh and he commands Bnei Yisrael, “Go and serve Hashem”. What is so terrible about three days of darkness? He who suffered through the plagues of blood and lice, of boils and hail is alarmed by a little bit of darkness? It seems that a threatening aspect of the plague of darkness is the loss of the sense of time. In the ancient world, Rolex watches were not really that popular… our ancestors determined the time primarily with the aid of the celestial bodies. When darkness continues unabated, the reckoning of the days ceases. The Egyptians withdrew themselves, suppressed in their houses, gorged by dread and fear with no control over or awareness of the time. What is going on? What will be? Is it evening now? Or perhaps morning? Is there any significance to this question? Time gives us a certain measure of security in the world in which we live; the loss of time arouses within us great concern.
In this week’s parasha, we also find the first commandment that was charged to Bnei Yisrael. According to Rashi in his commentary on the first verse of the Book of Bereshit, the Torah should have opened with this very commandment, “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” According to this verse, G-d is commanding us to determine and to arrange the Hebrew calendar – to decide what the first month is and how the months and the festivals will be dated.
We live in a framework of time and space. We can control our space; we decide where to go and what to do. Man can choose to withdraw himself into his bedroom or to go out shopping. He is capable of traveling to the jungle and even of flying to the moon. But over time we have no control, time passes and flows. We are unable to stop it, to turn it back, to slow it down or speed it up.
For this reason, it is apt that the first commandment of Bnei Yisrael is the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month. The determining of time gives to Bnei Yisrael a sense of control over it in as much as we give it meaning. We are unable to stop time, only to measure it. We can however create an awareness of time, to rule over it and not to be enslaved by it.
More than this, the Torah does not give special meaning and importance to the calendar. Immediately after the commandment of the sanctification of the new moon, we are instructed in the details of how to commemorate Pesach. The Torah is careful to give spiritual meaning to the calendar in order that life should be lead in a more moral way.
For a nation of slaves who escape from an evil and painful servitude in a land that is not theirs, this idea is paramount. The Jewish people are now required to live in a world of freedom and not as humiliated slaves. It appears that giving meaning to time is the key to such a redeemed life.