30 Shevat - 1 Adar 1, 5776
Hodesh tov! Today is rosh hodesh (the first of the month) of Adar 1. (And just to add one more small piece to this- Rosh Hodesh can be one or two days long. In months that are 30 days long, Rosh Hodesh/the new moon, starts on the last day, the 30th day, of the prior month and continues through the first day of the new month! So when I say "Today is rosh hodesh" I actually mean that from Monday night throughTuesday - which was the 30th of Shevat- together with Tuesday night through Wednesday- which is the 1st of Adar 1- all that is Rosh Hodesh Adar 1/the new moon of Adar 1. But now let's get back to the month of Adar, and the question of the "1" in "Adar 1.")
What does that number 1 mean? That this year we have two leap years: one in our civic calendar, and one in the Hebrew calendar, and both are happening around now! In our civic calendar, this year is called a leap year because at the end of this month we have an extra day that only happens every four years. In the Hebrew calendar, a “leap year,” also called a “pregnant” year/shanah m’uberet in Hebrew, is when we have an additional month added to our year. Which month gets doubled? Adar, which is why we have Adar 1 that just started now, and in one month, when the moon is again new, Adar 2 will begin. A Jewish leap year takes place every few years (7 times in a 19-year cycle), and keeps the calendar connected with the seasons (you know, the Zmanim!), so that we don’t end up, for example, celebrating the spring holiday of Pesach (Passover) in the fall.
How could it be that Pesah might end up in the autumn without such an adjustment? Every Hebrew month is 29 or 30 days. Our civic calendar months are 30 to 31 days long. We can see that this difference will add up to a Hebrew calendar year being 11 days shorter than our civic calendar. That’s why it seems like every year the Jewish holidays keep changing: because in our civic calendar they do keep moving. Of course, in the Jewish calendar, the dates don’t change at all, and Rosh HaShannah is always on the 1st of Tishrei, Hanukkah is always on the 25th of Kislev, and Passover is always on the 15th of Nissan. When do these dates fall? Check the moon, and start counting “day 1” from when the new moon can first be seen and you can easily know!
However, even with that moon connection, since our planets have different rotations, those 11 days difference between a solar and lunar calendar is what moves the Hebrew dates slightly in relationship to the solar-based civic calendar. Because of that yearly shift, Passover will get earlier and earlier and earlier… which could place it in any (and all!) of the seasons then… if not for our special “pregnant (leap) years,” which bump all the holidays later by adding in a second Adar.
Of all the Hebrew months, why did the rabbis choose Adar to double? There is a famous saying from the Talmud, “When we enter Adar, we increase in joy.” This joy culminates in the rowdy celebration of Purim on the 14th of Adar II (March 23-24). Part of this joy also stems from the fact that, at least in Mediterranean climates like ours and Israel’s, the beginnings of spring are starting to be felt. Things waking up cause people to get a little rowdy and joyous, that’s why the festivals of Mardi Gras/Carnival and the Hindu holiday of Holi also fall at this time. It is because of the connection of Adar with joy that the rabbis chose it to be the “pregnant” month of the leap year. If there are any particular qualities that they thought we might benefit from inviting more of into our lives, let it be joy!
So this month of Adar 1, may our joy begin to increase and continue to flow strong and clear from now through the end of Adar 2!