Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 197

February 9, 2024, (30 Sh'vat 5784)

Parasha Mishpatim - The Jewish Leap Year

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well and in good health.

This Shabbat we will have an extraordinary morning service, which I encourage you to attend. We will be joined by world-renowned musician and recording artist Neshama Carlebach.

Neshama is a winner and four-time nominee of the Independent Music Awards for her most current release, Believe, and a winner of the Global Music Awards Silver Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Vocalist for the album. Neshama has sold over one million records, making her one of today’s best-selling Jewish artists in the world.

Neshama, who will be accompanied by her sons, will enhance our liturgy by offering uplifting instrumental melodies and songs. I will also interview Neshama and her sons in a discussion about Kedusha (holiness). As always, our services will begin at 10:00am and a Kiddush luncheon will follow, so please join us and bring a friend for what will be a memorable occasion!

This week, our community extends its gratitude to Aaron Klein for sponsoring the Kiddush in memory of his mother and father. May their memory be for a blessing.

At this time of year, I often think of a dear friend, whose wife was born on February 29th. Toby celebrates the actual anniversary of her birthday once every four years, and her husband, jokes that his wife is only 15 years old. This may be hard to believe considering that I am officiating at their daughter’s wedding in a couple of months!

In contrast to the secular leap day of February 29th, the Jewish calendar is unique due to its insertion of a leap month. In fact, this Shabbat, we will inaugurate the month of Adar One. (Purim will be celebrated during Adar Two.) Due to the complicated nature of the Jewish calendar, which is based on an intercalation of both the lunar cycle and the solar cycle seven times every nineteen years, we add an extra month to the calendar. This assures us that Pesach will not be in the summer and the Mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah will not be challenged by the February’s winter’s climate!

Here are some fun facts about the strange calendrical phenomenon of the Jewish leap year:

  1. The Julian calendar was proposed in 46 BC by (and takes its name from) Julius Caesar, as a reform of the earlier Roman calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is a system for determining the date that was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in the year 1582 AD. The Jewish calendar that we use was established by Hillel II in the 4th century.
  2. The Sages were qualified astronomers who were able to determine the difference in length between the solar year of 365 days and the lunar year of 12 synodic months (12 cycles of lunar phases), which is approximately 354 days long.
  3. A rabbinic phrase suggests that “When we enter Adar, we should increase our joy.” Therefore, this year, you are challenged to be happy for two full months, Adar 1, and Adar 2.
  4. The Sanhedrin (rabbinical court in Jerusalem) watched the traffic patterns. If the roads or bridges were in disrepair due to the winter rainy season, which would impede the ability of the pilgrims to travel to Jerusalem for Passover, declaring a leap year would give “crews” time to get everything in order.
  5. The Jewish leap year, which we observe this year, is known as a Shanah Me’uberet, a “pregnant year,” or perhaps more properly an “enlarged year,” since it is temporarily larger than usual.
  6. Since 1776, there have been only nine times when the leap day of the secular calendar, February 29th, coincided with a Shabbat. To mark the occasion, some clever Jewish people coined the phrase “Leap Shabbat.”
  7. In the year 921, corresponding to the Jewish year of 4681, there was a heated dispute between Aron Ben Meir and Saadya Gaon, the acknowledged head of his community, about whether the coming year of 4682 was a leap year or not. The dispute was settled by a coin toss.
  8. The English-language Encyclopedia Judaica was first published in Jerusalem by Keter Publishing House, and in New York City by the Macmillan Company in 1971–1972 and it contained sixteen volumes. One of the lengthiest articles published in that edition offered a detailed explanation of the intricacies of the Jewish calendar.
  9. The first commandment given to the Jewish people was to mark the beginning of the new month (Ex. 12:1).

Friends, there really is something sacred about marking our time according to the pulse of the Jewish year. Immersed in the holiness of every Jewish day, we come to realize that the holidays are never too early or too late, but are observed when they are supposed to occur and that Shabbat preparations are always rushed, regardless of the designated time for candle lighting. Keeping Jewish time, however, does not give us an excuse to come late to either in-person, or for sure, Zoom events.

May this Shabbat, bring us joy, happiness, song, and fulfillment and may the extra month we are allotted this year inspire us to make every Jewish moment count for ourselves, the people of Israel, and all of humankind.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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