We are now firmly in the month of February, a 28 day month in most years, that becomes 29 days in years that are multiples of four. Of course, this phenomenon is known as a “leap year.” And while 2019 is not a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, it is in the Hebrew calendar. Seven times every 19 years, the Hebrew calendar adds an extra month, known as Adar rishon (the first Adar), that precedes the standard Adar (which becomes Adar sheni, or the second Adar). Thus, Adar, the month that brings with it increased joy and the popular holiday of Purim, gets doubled up for double the joy over double the days.
But why all the complicated math? Why do we have leap years in the first place? According to Wikipedia: “A leap year (also known as an intercalary year or bissextile year) is a calendar year containing…in the case of the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, a month added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, calendars that have the same number of days in each year drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track. By inserting (also called intercalating) an additional month into the year, the drift can be corrected.”
Essentially, in order for our months and days, and thus our people’s holidays and narrative story cycle to stay in relative relation to the natural seasons and astronomical cycles around us, we must add an autocorrect. Otherwise, over time, we would find ourselves celebrating the blooming liberation of our Pesach miracle during the fall harvest, while sleeping in Sukkot during springtime rain. The comforting flames of the Chanukah candles would light up the bright summer sky instead of the cold winter darkness (as they do in the Southern Hemisphere, actually). The first signs of Tu B’Shvat tree-sap rising would happen as the trees around us start hibernating for the season. And Purim, seen by some as the Jewish Halloween, might actually end up coinciding with All Hallow’s Eve one October 31st.
Our rhythms, the rhythms of our people, and the ancient ebbs and flows of our spiritual time are deeply and inherently connected to the world around us. Our holidays are a marker of temporal and agricultural change, of harvest, first fruits, of pilgrimage, and of relationship to sun and rain and moon and stars. We are of the land and we return to the land. Our stories are spiraling perennial tales that parallel our natural year cycle, a composite of mythical history, layered with agricultural truth and narrative fable. Judaism at its core cannot exist divorced from the world around us, because Judaism is not separate from the world around us.
Why did the architects of the Jewish calendar intercalate an Adar Rishon seven out of every nineteen years? So that we could stay connected to the soil in which Judaism is rooted. This Hebrew leap month, may we be blessed with increasing joy, and may we know gratitude for a religion that takes seriously our inseparable connection to the breath of all life.
Here at Hazon Detroit, we’re digging deep into our winter regeneration, strategic planning, and cold-weather programming, while looking forward to the renewal of spring.
In loving community,
Rabbi Nate, Wren, Marla, Brittany, Hannah, and Megan