RE’EH (Deuteronomy, 11:26-16:17) — “Spring Ahead …”

Most Muslim holidays don’t attract a great deal of attention. One notable exception is the month of Ramadan. This month of fasting and feasting often attracts the world’s attention, mostly due to political/military considerations. During the war in Afghanistan, many wondered if the U.S. would continue its relentless attacks on the Taliban during the “holy” month of Ramadan. That was, if you recall, during the secular month of November. A few years back, there were cruise missile attacks on Iraq during Ramadan. That was during Chanukah. The first time I heard of Ramadan was when I was a Yeshiva student in Israel in 1974. That year, Ramadan came out in the fall.

Jews and Muslims both use a lunar calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, always comes out on the new moon. Why then, is there such a discrepancy between the Jewish and Muslim calendars? While Ramadan can come out any time during the year, Rosh Hashanah is always in September, and Passover is always in March or April. How do calendars that are so similar end up so different?

Passover in the spring is no mere coincidence. The Torah tells us, “Guard the Month of the Spring, and bring a Passover Offering to G-d, because it was during the Month of the Spring that G-d took you out of Egypt at night.” (Deuteronomy, 16:1)

“Modern” (i.e., the last 2400 years or so) calendars refer to the month during which Passover comes out as “Nissan.” (Actually, the names of the Jewish months are names that we picked up during the Babylonian exile.) The Torah, which usually refers to the months by number, (the first month, the second month, etc.,) calls Nissan “the Month of the Spring,” and tells us to “guard” it.

The Talmud, (Sifri, 167) tells us that the way we “guard the Month of the Spring” is by making sure that it comes out in the spring. This is accomplished by fine-tuning the lunar calendar to correspond with the solar calendar.

As we know, the secular year is based on the amount of time it takes for the earth to travel around the sun. This journey takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. We make up for the 6 hours by adding a day to February every four years. (Since it’s not EXACTLY six hours, we usually make additional adjustments every 400 years, but we skipped that adjustment in the year 2000. However, the year 2400 will NOT be a leap year. Stay tuned. :-))

On the Jewish calendar, it’s a bit more complicated. A lunar month is 29½ days. Therefore, we usually have six 29-day months and six 30-day months. This gives us a 354-day year, an eleven-day deficit vis-à-vis the solar calendar. That’s why last year Rosh Hashanah was on September 18, and this year it’s on the 7th.

If the calendar were left alone, Rosh Hashanah would slip back an additional 11 days every year. Before you knew it, we’d have Chanukah in July! (At least it might eliminate the “December dilemma!”) The Torah says that this would be unacceptable. Passover must come out in the spring. Therefore, every few years we have a leap year, adding a MONTH to the calendar. The month of Adar becomes Adar 1 and Adar 2 (actually giving us a “Little Purim” a month before the regular Purim).

It seems that the only concern is about Passover. We really wouldn’t care if Rosh Hashanah fell in May or Purim in September. The problem is that Passover has to come out in the spring. Why?

Rashi (Exodus, 13:4) explains that there was a specific reason that the Exodus took place in the spring. Rather than taking the Israelites out of Egypt during the heat of the summer, or the cold and rain of the winter, He took them out when it was most comfortable to travel. (Of course, they ended up spending forty years in the desert, but had they done what they were supposed to do, they would have been in Israel before the summer.)

Another reason for the springtime departure from Egypt was to show the world Who is in charge. The Zodiac sign for the “Springtime Month” is Aries, the sign of the ram, the god of Egypt. Right smack in the middle of the month when the Egyptian god was considered to be in power, G-d told us to roast little lambs for a Passover feast. Once we finished eating those little Egyptian icons, G-d further showed the Egyptians how powerless their “god” was by taking us out under the “its watch.”

G-d has the power to save us at any time He desires. He chooses to do it at the time that He understands is best for us.

Please, dear Father, let it be now.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“The Emperor’s New Tallis” (2010)

It was the social event of the year…

There was, of course, a Chuppah.  How do you have a Simcha without one?  And a framed Ketubah.  And a Yarmulke.  And a Tallis.  And a broken glass.

Oh, there was also a Jewish young man who wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, as far as Torah Law is concerned, he didn’t…

Read more.

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“The Tire Kicker” (2009)

How should we live our lives?  What does G-d want us to do?

The answer to this question SHOULD BE simple:  Open the Torah, read what it says, and do it!  After all, it’s the Master of the World’s instructions.  He made the world and He made us.  Certainly He knows what’s best for us.

He told us to rest on the Sabbath, so we should rest on the Sabbath.  He told us not to worship idols, so we shouldn’t worship idols.

But what if G-d changes His mind?  Do the rules change if G-d decides to set up a different system?

What if G-d decides, “You know, I don’t like the way things are working out with the current Mitzvah arrangement.  The original Testament I set up isn’t working so well.  I think I’ll write a ‘New’ one.”…

Read more.

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 “Birds of Different Feathers …?” (2007)

… It is commonly understood that the reason we don’t eat eagles, owls, and hawks is that they are birds of prey.  Birds that attack other animals and tear them to shreds with their claws are not the types of creatures we want to consume… the Torah wanted to distance us from the consumption of cruel animals because they would somehow taint us spiritually and ingrain a degree of cruelty into our souls.

One interesting bird on the list is the Chasidah, usually translated as a stork… The Chasidah is a very generous bird who shares its food with its fellow Chasidahs.  …  This begs the obvious question… we don’t eat these non-kosher birds because they are cruel.  We don’t want to ingest a nasty bird that kills other animals.  But the Chasidah is a nice guy!  He shares his food with his fellows.  He does Chesed, acts of kindness for others!  So what’s the problem?..

Read more.

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“You!”  (2006)

… The Talmud describes how the available bachelorettes borrowed dresses (so as not to embarrass one who had none) and went down to the vineyards to meet eligible bachelors … two days, Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av, were the two main days for arranging marriages.

Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?  Yom Kippur, a day of serious spiritual yearning, a time of forgiveness of sins!  Is that the right time to arrange a date?!  The month of Av, a time during which we have shed oceans of tears!  Is that an appropriate time for a singles event?! …

Read more.

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“Terrible or Tear-able? – The Living Talk about Dying” (2005)

… I once went to visit a friend who was sitting Shiva for his father.  He and his mother were both wearing black ribbons pinned to their shirts.  Now this black ribbon, as I will explain, has no significance whatsoever in traditional Jewish practice.  It was the last day of Shiva.  My friend, taking advantage of the fact that a rabbi was visiting, decided to call upon the vast wealth of Torah knowledge that his friend the rabbi could provide.

“So tell me, Rabbi,” he asked.  “How long am I supposed to wear this ribbon?”…

Read more.

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“A Little Bit Kosher?!” (2004)

“There’s no such thing as ‘a little bit pregnant.”  There are no two ways about it; either you are or you aren’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Kosher law was so simple? … “Why are there so many Kosher symbols? What ever happened to the plain, simple “K”? O-U, O-K, Star-K? OY VAY!!!!”… I still haven’t answered the question about dual standards.   Must meat be Glatt kosher or not?  Must milk be Cholov Yisroel or not?  IS SHE PREGNANT OR NOT?!

Read more.

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“A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field” (2003)

… My son and I went to a baseball game the other day.  I usually try to take him to a game or two every season, and this particular day fit into my schedule.  Coincidentally, it happened to have been Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium.  What, I wondered, is “Jewish Heritage?”  Well, now I was going to find out.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful day.  Fortunately for my son-the-Met-fan, the Mets beat the  Rockies. (Again!)  The weather was great.  Cliff Floyd had four hits and an intentional walk.  Al Leiter pitched a season-high ten strikeouts.  It was a good day at Shea.

Oh, and the “Jewish Heritage Day?”  To be honest, I was, at best, underwhelmed…

Read more.

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“Spring Ahead …” (2002)

…Jews and Muslims both use a lunar calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, always comes out on the new moon. Why then, is there such a discrepancy between the Jewish and Muslim calendars? While Ramadan can come out any time during the year, Rosh Hashanah is always in September, and Passover is always in March or April.  How do calendars that are so similar end up so different?…

If the calendar were left alone… we’d have Chanukah in July! (At least it might eliminate the “December dilemma!”) …

Read more.

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“BREAD, MATZAH…AND PIZZA” (2001)

… Did you ever wonder why we left in a hurry?  We eat Matzah to remember that since we were in a hurry, there was no time for our bread to rise.  But what was the rush?  Why were we in such a hurry?   We couldn’t afford a few more minutes to take the bread out of the oven and put some peanut butter on it?!  210 years in  Egypt, and we can’t take the time to pack and leave like a mentch?!…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on August 2, 2002 at 3:29 am  Leave a Comment  

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