Calendar Plan A & Plan B

Published November 30, -0001

No surprise to regular TTreaders that the Lead Tidbit for Shabbat HaChodesh focuses on the Jewish Calendar. Definitely, a favorite topic of Torah Tidbits.
But try to resist saying: Here he goes again! And don’t assume that we’re just going over old material. Definitely a new slant coming… Keep reading.
First, when one studies the Jewish Calendar and learns something new about it, or fine-tunes a known piece of information, there is a fulfillment of the spirit of the mitzva of KIDDUSH HACHODESH. The committee of judges of the Sanhedrin in charge of Kiddush HaChodesh are REQUIRED by Torah law (says the Rambam) to know many details related to the process of setting up the calendar monthly and yearly (for the periodic intercalation of an extra month). We do not have that level of obligation, but the more we know about the calendar, the greater our appreciation of this mitzva, which is a special gift from G-d to the people of Israel. With the word LACHEM (twice in the presentation of the mitzva), He made the whole process ours, and He brought His people into a special partnership with Him.
Personal note: I am trying hard to keep this Lead Tidbit focused, but I’m already finding that difficult. But whatever you read here is L’sHEIM (the spirit of) MITZVAT HACHODESH HAZEH LACHEM.
Many emails have been flying around about the Jewish Calendar and civil calendar circumstances this year and the first part of next year. You might have read or heard about the unusual coincidence of the first day of Chanuka and the American holiday of Thanksgiving in 5774 – 2013. We’ll discuss that in due time. Here is another, linked, bit of information of more immediate interest. The first day of Pesach this year (coming up soon) is March 25th.
The last time that Pesach was so early in the civil calendar was in 1899 – 114 years ago. It’s begun on March 26th a couple of times since, but this year is the earliest in a long time.
A similar statement can be made about today (the day I’m typing the words, as well as the day you are reading them), about Shavuot, Rosh HaShana 5774, and so on.
Let’s get back on track. (Actually, we’ve been on the track, but as Rabbi Silverstein points out in his Candle by Day, it isn’t enough to be on the right track, one must also be on the train). So hop aboard…
The Mishna in Megila states that if ‘they have read the Megila’ – meaning, if we have celebrated Purim – and then the Committee of Sanhedrin members have declared the year to be M’UBERET – meaning that the coming month following the current one (which is sometime in the second half of Adar, since we’ve already had Purim) is to be Adar (again) rather than Nissan, then the Megila must be read again in the second Adar, meaning that Purim with everything is observed and celebrated again.
This situation cannot occur in the time between Sanhedrins – meaning, in our current time – because the extra Adar is not inserted by anyone’s decision; it follows a pattern without human ‘interference’ (so to speak). If you want to ‘do it yourself’, just take the number of the Jewish year, e.g. 5773 and divide it by 19. You should get 303 remainder 16. This means that 303 19-year cycles have passed since Creation and that this year is the 16th year of the current (304th) cycle. Which cycle is not relevant for the pattern – only the remainder is of interest.
The 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of a 19-year Lunar cycle (a.k.a. Minor Cycle) have two Adars. The other 12 years of the cycle have only one Adar. 5773 is not a SHANA M’UBERET because it is the 16th year of the cycle. Next year, 5774, is a M’UBERET because it is the 17th year of a cycle.
Now follow this: If we had a Sanhedrin today, they could decide that this year should have a second Adar and not next year. If they leave this year with only 12 months, then they MUST make next year a M’UBERET, because, if not, Pesach would be around the 14th or 15th of March, which is the end of winter, i.e. before the Vernal Equinox (beginning of Spring). That would violate the Torah’s insistence that Pesach be in the Spring.
For us today, next year is scheduled to have two Adars, which pushes Pesach into mid-April. No problem. But a Sanhedrin can, with cause, declare this year M’UBERET rather than next year.
If they were to do that, they would usually announce it before Purim. (As early as Rosh HaShana, but usually in the beginning of Adar.) Why would they decide and announce it after Purim? Perhaps because of the ‘return’ of winter. Unexpected heavy snows and rains after Purim which would cause them to delay this year’s Pesach. They have that power.
No one questions that declaring another Adar after Purim is not a great situation. It means interrupting Pesach cleaning, making new batches of (chametzdik) hamantashen, cakes, cookies for Mishlo’ach Manot – again. (Can you do the same thing or do you have to be original and creative all over again?) New costumes for the kids. Guests (same or others) for the Seuda, etc.
This can happen with Calendar Plan A – when we have a Sanhedrin. It cannot happen with Calendar Plan B – our current system. So would you vote to keep the neat, predictable – no Purim again?
Simply put, Plan A is what G-d wants. It calls for active participation on the part of the people of Israel – their (our) San- hedrin and regular people, as well, for testifying. HaShem wants us to be His active partners in the process. Even if it means Purim one more time. (Don’t worry too much – it won’t be a common occurrence. Might never happen.)
Plan B is what we have now. Works well. We can have yearly calendars from Rosh HaShana without ‘worrying’ which months will be only 29 days long and which will go the full 30. Without wondering how many Adars there will be. Without not being able to see the first visibility of the Lunar Crescent because of clouds (because we don’t have to look for it). Without our active participation. And that’s the rub, as they say. With Plan B, we can have computer programs and 200 year calendars, and neat statistics for Torah Tidbits… but we are relegated to the status of passive observers. All our months were sanctified by the Sanhedrin of Hillel HaZakein. We don’t have the excitement of crowding into the courtyard of the Sanhedrin headquarters early in the morning to hear the NASI proclaim and sanctify the day as Rosh Chodesh. We are only passive partners with HaShem. He wants more of us… and we should want more. We should say, understand, and mean HASHIVA SHO-F’TEINU K’VARISHONA… Restore our judges as of old… Let us merit the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin and everything that goes with it… let that lead to – or accompany – the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and the Messianic era. Let us yearn for it, long for it, deserve it, hasten it… and not worry about repeating Purim.