“But the prince shall not take property away from any of the people and rob them of their holdings. Only out of his own holdings shall he endow his sons, in order that My people may not be dispossessed of their holdings” Ezekiel 46:18


This line is the last of the special haftarah which we read this week, on the unusual calendrical intersection of Tazria and Shabbat Hachodesh. 

Our commemoration of Shabbat Hachodesh is notable because the month of Nisan was not just the start of spring, or simply the month containing Pesach, but also the original time from which the Hebrew year was counted. 

Rosh Hashanah only took on its current significance as the New Year in the time of the Mishnah, where the concept is preserved of four different new years. We too have our own fits and starts of annual tabulation — there’s the school year starting in September, the financial year beginning in April, all in addition to the start of the calendar year on January 1. 

Even here in England, the New Year was recognised as January 1 from the 12th century, but the calendar didn’t start over until March 25, at least until 1752. 

It’s a reminder of how flexible and facile our counting of time can often be, and how often it changes. To return to the Torah and to the idea of Rosh Chodesh Nisan as the start of the New Year, we should consider what the purpose of that marking of time was, if we want to understand it better. The verse above, and the context of the haftarah, remind us that for the Torah, counting time is about measuring obligation. Much is forgiven during every seventh year (shemittah) and all is returned to where it “belongs” every fiftieth year (yovel). 

A key part of counting time is marking and measuring responsibility and ownership. Time itself was seen as a bulwark against corruption. With the resetting of the year, we could expect a form of retributive and restorative economic justice. Perhaps then it’s only appropriate that as we approach the new month of Nisan and the old new-year of the Torah, we reflect on how we can use the fresh start of a fresh year to prevent the exploitation of people and restore the order of God. 

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