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The Leap Year

7th of Adar

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The Leap Year

by Yrachmiel Tilles

When we Jews have a leap year we do it right: we add an additional month seven times every nineteen years. Because the solar year outpaces the lunar year by 11 and 1/4 days each year, at the end of every 19 year cycle, we achieve convergence of the solar and lunar vectors.

There is a lot that could be said about this. I'll restrict myself to two points: one about the "pregnant" year as the leap year is called in Hebrew, and one about the thirteenth month.

  1. Day in, day out, always rising in the east and setting in the west, the sun is a dependable incandescent source of heat and light, even on cloudy days. As such, the sun symbolizes the power that Jewish constancy can generate: praying on a regular basis, whether you feel like it or not, studying Torah every day and night without fail, celebrating Shabbat and the Festivals, etc.

    The delicate silvery moon appears nightly in a different location, and wearing an altered shape. Its phases of New, Quarter, Half, and Full are all palpable indicators to our bemused gaze of the moon's pulsating cycle. Thus, the moon represents the excitement of change and innovation. Each day the Torah should feel new, our prayers fresh, every Shabbat exciting, etc., all as if we had never done them before.

    Some Jews overbalance towards "sun style," allowing the power built up by the regularity of their observances to beguile them into being satisfied with dry habit. Other are "moon men," letting the excitement and high times they occasionally achieve seduce them into ignoring the necessity for a basic level of daily commitment and consistency.

    The idea, of course, is to combine and harmonize the sun and moon forces, for we all need the positive qualities of both. For eighteen years on the Jewish calendar, either the sun or the moon has been leading the race. In the nineteenth year, balance, "the best of both," is achieved.

  2. Interestingly, the added thirteenth month 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-in the Code of Jewish Law it is written: "As soon as Adar begins, increase in joy!"

    For sixty days it is a mitzva to be extra happy. I hope that all our readers will take this mitzva 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 revelation of Moshiach and the final redemption.

Yrachmiel Tilles is one of the founders and directors of ASCENT Seminars in Safed, and editor of ASCENT Quarterly.
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