"Maintaining the Cosmic Balance"

by Yerachmiel Tilles

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 [ibid 12]).

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 pregnant year."
* 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, 5784, 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, sunset - 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.

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