Good Rosh Chodesh Adar Alef (or Rishon) to you!
And congratulations —we have been given an extra month of life! Yes, Hashem’s decree as to how long a person shall live is generally given in terms of years. Thus, an extra month in a year, a 13-month year, is certainly welcome, as we unquestionably gain on the deal. How we actually use this extra time is another story. But let us at least recognize this chessed. As the Chovos Halevavos (Sha’ar Avodas Elokim, Chapter 7) writes in his 10 “rules” for minimal hakaras hatov (attitude of gratitude) to Hashem, one should not put down, scorn, or minimize, Hashem’s beneficence. (“Ahh, who needs that? Big deal! What do I really gain out of that? There are still bills to pay, issues to deal with. You have been given another month! Make something of it!)
But where does this extra month actually come from? Taking the risk of underestimating the readers’ level of knowledge, let us take this opportunity to go over the fundamental basis of this extra month.
The Torah states (Devarim 16:1), “Guard the month of ‘ripening’ (Chodesh Ha’aviv), and you shall bring a korban Pesach…” Meaning, guard the spring season (when grain crops ripen in Eretz Yisrael) to ensure that it will coincide with the renewal of the month (chodesh) of Nissan. Rashi there explains that the word ‘chodesh’ can generally be translated in one of two ways. It can be translated as ‘month,’ but it can also be translated as ‘renewal.’ These translations are related, as the moon’s ‘renewing’ itself is the basis for the Jewish month. The secular solar calendar, based on the sun’s ‘travels’ in the sky, has no real ‘month’ (or ‘moonth,’ if you will) —it is simply a convenient way of dividing the year into smaller units. A complete revolution of the sun’s ‘travels,’ or, if you prefer (and most of you probably do), the earth’s orbit around the sun, is divided into 12 basically equal parts; some have 30 days others 31, with the exception except February, which stands alone. However, the Jewish calendar (a lunar system, based on the moon’s monthly orbit around the earth) has no real ‘year’! The term ‘year’ is merely a convenient way of referring to 12 real months (i.e., lunar months). The 354 days in the lunar ‘year’ do not equal a solar year (365 days). A real (i.e., solar) year does not divide into 12 real (i.e., lunar) months. (The lunar month is really more complicated than this , as we still have to deal with what is called a sidereal month [27.3 days] and a synodic period [29.5 days], but just about everything is more complicated than you think, and explaining this and how we determine the lunar month would require its own column.)
At the end of the lunar month, the moon disappears from view, only to reappear on or around Rosh Chodesh. Each day, a larger and larger crescent of the moon becomes visible, until the moon is ‘full’ at about halfway through the month. (It is up to this point that one can say Kiddush Levanah, as the moon is constantly in its state of renewal during this period). From then on, a progressively smaller crescent of the moon appears each day, until the moon disappears at the end of the month, and the cycle begins again. Thus, the first 14 days of the month (approximately) is called the period of the moon’s renewal. We thus interpret the word ‘chodesh’ in the passuk to mean the first 14 (or so) days of the month.
The word ‘aviv’ means ‘the ripening of grain.’ Grain ripens based on the solar cycle, as that is what determines what we call ‘seasons.’ Therefore, there really is no such thing as Chodesh Ha’aviv! For ‘aviv’ is not a month on the lunar calendar cycle, but a reference to the spring (‘ripening’) season!
Thus, the passuk should be interpreted as follows, “Guard the ripening season to ensure that it will begin during the first 14 days of Nissan (the month in which you left Egypt).”
Since the ripening season is obviously based on the system of seasons, which comprise the 365-day solar (real) year, but the month and its renewal is based on the lunar cycle; and since the 12 lunar (real) months only equal about 354 days, within a few years we obviously will have a problem having any part of the ripening season come out during the renewal of the moon of Nissan.
The Rambam actually explains the aforementioned derashah somewhat differently, changing its focus a bit. Rambam writes (Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh, 4:1) that the passuk is telling me that our chief concern is the holiday of Pesach. We want to ensure that Pesach occurs during the spring (ripening) season. Given the discrepancy described above, Pesach would soon occur during the winter! (The Torah deals with the seasons, the day, the year, the month from the perspective of a person living in Eretz Yisrael.)
So what do we do? How do we reconcile the discrepancy? We want to have our (real) months and our (real) years as well!
Moshe Rabbeinu was taught that the solution lies in having a ‘pregnant year.’ That happens to be the literal translation of the halachic term ‘shanah me’uberess.’ This is actually the perfect phrase to use. The body (the year) remains the basic entity. The body takes on a new member, a new ‘limb’ (an entire month), which will have its own identity when it is ‘born’ (i.e., when the month comes into being). Meanwhile it is incorporated ‘within’ the body of the year, a limb like all the others, waiting to acquire its own identity upon ‘birth.’
Thus, we have the thirteen-month ‘year,’ with its (approximately) 385 days. But how do we know where to fit that extra month in? How do we know which is that extra month, why not Elul? Wouldn’t we all like an extra Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah?
The answer and more information are forthcoming, im yirtzeh Hashem, in part two.