Today is Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and today’s daf (Megillah 22b) teaches us that on Rosh Chodesh there is an extra (fourth) oleh LaTorah (individual that is called up to the Torah). But why?
According to a Beraita cited in our daf, it is because Rosh Chodesh is a day when people are under less work pressure (אין בו ביטול מלאכה לעם). As such, given our desire to acknowledge and sanctify Rosh Chodesh, along with the greater time flexibility to do so, we add an extra aliyah LaTorah so we can have a further opportunity to hear and ponder more words of the Torah.
Though all this may sound nice, many may ask whether it is true that we are under less work pressure on Rosh Chodesh. True, there are some women who have the custom to refrain from some forms of labour on Rosh Chodesh (which some associate with women’s lack of participation in the construction of the Egel HaZahav), but nowadays few have the opportunity to do so, and this is also not a practice of men. Given this, how are we to understand this teaching?
Though there are those – such as Rabbi Yehoshua Bresler in his Chelkat Yehoshua (see https://bit.ly/31jZDdr) – who provide thoughtful explanations that attempt to explain this conundrum, I would like to offer an insight relating to the very concept of Rosh Chodesh which we will be reading about this Shabbat in Parshat Bo, and to begin, we must ask why the establishment of Rosh Chodesh (see Shemot 12:1) was the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as they transitioned from slavery to freedom?
The answer, offered by the Seforno and echoed by numerous modern commentaries, is that a foundational aspect of freedom relates to the choices we have over how we use our time. Rather than slaves who could not control what they did on a daily basis (as Seforno explains, לא היו ימיכם שלכם – your days were not truly yours), freedom is about being able to choose what you do with your time (as Seforno writes, לעשות בהם כרצונכם – to do with them as you wish).
Admittedly, nowadays we may have the same work pressures on a Rosh Chodesh as we do on any other day. But while this may be so, Rosh Chodesh is nevertheless meant to be a monthly reminder to each of us that we do have choices about how we spend at least some of our time. And how is this expressed? By squeezing in an extra aliyah LaTorah on Rosh Chodesh – in order to show us that each of us can squeeze in a little more time for Torah, and a little more time for Chessed, into our lives.