Part I: The Pregnant Year
On the secular Gregorian calendar, every four years an extra day is added
to the month of February, since the solar revolution takes nearly 365
plus one-quarter days. The Jewish leap-year system is much more
dramatic; it has to be!
On one hand, the Torah commands to track the new moons and to keep a
lunar calendar [Ex. 12:2]. Since the lunar cycle is about 29 1/2 days,
a lunar year of 12 months contains 354 days (the months alternate between
29 and 30 days in length --a month couldn't be 29 1/2 days anymore than
a calendar year could be 365 1/4 days). One consequence of keeping a lunar
calendar would be that our festivals (like the Islamic holy days) would
occur 11 or so days earlier each year in relation to the solar cycle,
and thus, every three years would fall more than a solar month earlier,
and every nine years, a whole season earlier.
However, it is also specified in the Torah [Deut. 16:1] that Passover
must always be celebrated in the spring time (and Sukkot during autumn
In order for the festivals to retain their position relative to the seasons,
an adjustment must be made to enable the lunar calendar to maintain harmony
with the solar cycle, and indeed an extraordinary provision is taken.
In the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th year of every 19 year
cycle an entire month is added before the month in which Passover falls
- not just a day.* Such a year is called shanah m'uverret- "a
* Very approximately: 19 years of an 11-day annual differential
equals 209 days. Seven extra months of 30 days each equals 210 days. (In
reality it is much more precise, since a flexibility in the length of
two consecutive Jewish months, Cheshvan and Kislev - each one can be either
29 or 30 days - allow a regular year to have 353, 354, or 355 days, and
a leap year 383, 384, or 385.)
This year, 5779, the 3rd of a 19 year cycle, is such a year, pregnant
with a thirteenth month and also with extra meaning and growth potential.
Let's look at one of the interesting lessons that may be drawn from the
"reconciliation" of the sun and the moon, and consider its practical
applications for our personal lives. The lunar and solar cycles symbolize
two basic spiritual principles: consistency and innovation.
The sun symbolizes stability: the amount of light it radiates each day
is constant. The "sun pole" in our lives is our regular pattern
of observance and our basic principles and goals, areas where it is important
to be consistent, and unwavering.
The moon symbolizes change: the amount of light it reflects varies continuously.
As such, the "moon pole" in our lives is the striving for improvement,
progress and growth, and utilization of one's creativity.
Each type of service - constant and changing - possesses certain advantages.
When mitzvot are carried out with constancy over a period of time, the
repetitiveness itself leads to the service becoming part of our very nature
[see Avot 4:2].
One's service to G-d is whole when these opposing poles become complementary,
just as the sun and moon play an equal role in fixing the Jewish calendar
and its holidays. The new mitzvot observances (or higher levels of observance
of the ones already in our mitzvot repertoire) which we attain to should
become enduring commitments, and those which we have already become accustomed
to should still be done each time with the eagerness that is usually reserved
for first-time events.
Part Two: The Thirteenth Month
Now, let's consider the added month itself. Interestingly, it has the
same name as the twelfth month: Adar. Thus, every "pregnant"
year we have an Adar I and an Adar II. Two full months of all that
Adar implies. How extraordinary!
Adar, which contains the festival of Purim, is the official lucky month
of the Jewish people. That's even built into Jewish law, where it is recommended
that litigation with a non-Jew should be scheduled for Adar. It's also
the official happy month-As soon as Adar begins, increase in joy!"
Should something happen that seems unlucky or unhappy, don't be disillusioned.
Just as, for example, chicken soup is not rendered unkosher by milk that
spills into it if the proportion of soup to milk is sixty or more
to one, and therefore the entire mixture including the milk is considered
fit to eat and should not be thrown away, so too the sixty consecutive
days of lucky, happy Adar not only "swallow up" any seemingly
unpleasant occurrences during that time period, but can even make them
digestible and, ultimately, tasty.
For sixty days (Feb. 8, 6PM - Apr. 8) it is a mitzvah to be extra happy.
I hope that all Ascent readers will take this mitzvah seriously. If you
want to be super-religious about it, you should be increasingly happy
each day even in comparison with the previous day of Adar. May G-d help
all of us to accomplish this by hastening our ultimate joy, the complete
redemption of the Jewish people.