And a good Rosh Chodesh Adar Aleph (or Rishon) to you, too!
And congratulations — we’ve 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. And be careful! The Chovos Halevavos in Sha’ar Avodas Elokim, Chapter 7, gives ten “rules” for minimal hakaras hatov [attitude of gratitude] to Hashem. Rule number three is not to 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, deeds to do, promises to keep…”] You have indeed been given another month! Make something of it!)
But where does this extra month actually come from? At the risk of underestimating the reader’s already-acquired knowledge, let’s take this opportunity to go over the fundamental underpinnings of this extra month. (A full, basic source would be the Gemara Sanhedrin, dapim 12 to 13, and Rambam Kiddush Hachodesh, perek 4.)
The Torah states (Devarim 16:1), “Guard the month of ripening (Chodesh Ha’aviv), and you shall bring a korban Pesach…” That is to say, guard the spring season (when grain crops ripen in Eretz Yisroel) to ensure that it will be during the renewal of the month (chodesh) of Nissan. Rashi there explains: 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.” The translations are related, as indeed it is the moon which “renews” itself each month, giving us the basis for the Jewish month. A secular calendar (based on the sun’s “travels” in the sky) has no real month; it is simply a convenient way of dividing the year (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) into 12 basically equal parts — sometimes 30 days, sometimes 31 (excepting February which stands alone). But realize that the Jewish calendar (a lunar one, based on the moon’s monthly orbit around the earth) has no real year! It is merely a convenient way of referring to 12 real — lunar — months. (354 days do NOT equal a solar (real) year of 365 days. A solar (real) year does not divide into 12 lunar (real) months. (The lunar month is really more complicated than this, as we still have to deal with what is called a sidereal period [27. 3 days] and a synodic period [29. 5 days]; but let’s not go there, okay? And remember, just about everything is more complicated than you think.] At the end of a (real, lunar) month, the moon disappears from view, only to reappear on or around Rosh Chodesh. Each day, a larger crescent of the moon becomes visible, until there is a full moon about halfway through the month (it is up till 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) are called the period of the moon’s renewal. We thus interpret the word chodesh in the possuk to mean the first (approximately) 14 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 our seasons. So there really is no such thing as Chodesh Ha’aviv! For aviv is not a month on the lunar calendar cycle, but rather a reference to the spring (ripening) season!
And so the possuk is interpreted as follows: Guard the ripening season to ensure that it will begin during the first 14 days of Nissan (the month you went out of Mitzrayim).
Since the ripening season is obviously based on the seasons, which comprise the 365-day (real) year; while the month and its renewal are based on the lunar cycle, and since the 12 lunar (real) months only equal about 354 days, we obviously will have a problem having any part of the ripening season come out during the renewal of the moon of Nissan after a few years.
The Rambam actually puts the derashah somewhat differently, changing its focus a bit. Rambam says (Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh, 4:1) that the possuk is telling us that it is Pesach we are concerned about; that we want Pesach to come out in the spring (ripening) season; and given the discrepancy enumerated above, Pesach will soon start occurring in the winter! (The Torah, of course, deals with these matters — the seasons, the day, the year, the month — all from the perspective of a person living in Eretz Yisroel.)
So what do we do? How do we reconcile the discrepancy? We want to have our (real) months, and our (real) years, too!
Moshe Rabbeinu was taught that the solution lies in having a pregnant year. That happens to be the literal translation of the halachic term “shana me’uberes.” It 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” (a month), which will have its own identity when it is “born” (when the month comes into being); but meanwhile it is incorporated “within” the body of the year, a limb like the other limbs, awaiting to acquire its own identity upon “birth.”
And hence we have the 13-month “year”— with about 385 days, 13 times 29.5.
But how do we know where to stick in that extra month? 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 im yirtzeh Hashem more information, in part two.
But Rabbi Malinowitz, meanwhile, please tell us if we should be marbin b’simchah? Please! Don’t leave us wondering! After all, it is Rosh Chodesh today!
Well, here is my offer. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell me how you fulfill marbin b’simchah every Adar, and bli neder I will write you back with a hora’ah.
Good Shabbos, good chodesh.
To be continued…