The Jewish Calendar - Hacking the Universe
Parshat Beha'alotcha - (Numbers 9: 2-13) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse Friday May 28th 2021 as we uncover the relationship between the Biblical Pesach Sheni (2nd Passover) and the later instituted Shana M'Uberet (Leap year). We hypothesize regarding the theological and social ramifications of correcting an irregular calendar based on a seemingly imperfect planetary system. Source Sheet on Sefaria: www.sefaria.org/sheets/326069 Transcript below: Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. We also host a clubhouse every Friday at 4:00pm Eastern time and this week, along with Rabbi Adam Mintz We uncover a relationship between the Biblical Pesach Sheni (2nd Passover) and the shana meuberet, the leap year. We hypothesize regarding the theological and social ramifications of tweaking a calendar created by a seemingly imperfect planetary system. So join us on a date as we explore the Jewish Calendar and hacking the universe. G Stern [00:00:00] Welcome to Madlik, where every week Friday at four o'clock Eastern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and I, Geoffrey Stern, do a little disruptive Torah learning. And by that I mean we look at subject matters either in a an unorthodox manner, certainly not with a capital O, but in a different manner to get our hearts and minds thinking about Judaism a little bit differently. This week's parsha B'eha'lotcha is in the book of numbers. And the subject that we're going to discuss today is one that those who have listened to the podcast know I love and value so much. And that's the idea of the second Passover "Pesach Sheni". And for the first few minutes, we'll discuss it in very traditional ways. But then we're going to dig a little bit deeper. So let me set the stage. It's literally the Jews are in the desert and it is, I believe, the first time that they will be celebrating the Passover. It's the first or the second anniversary. And the people are instructed to keep the Passover. "b'moado" in it's set time and the verse goes on to say, you shall do it on the 14th day of this month at twilight, "b'moado" in its time and of course, those of us who know Passover is in the month of Nisan. And believe it or not, the very first commandment that the Jewish people were given was not to keep Shabbat and it was not not to steal, it was to make sure that "Hahodesh ha'ze l'chem", that the month of Nisan should be the beginning of the months. So it was a commandment to do with the calendar. In any case, that we understand why whenever it talks about Passover and today's section is no exception, it makes sure that everyone understands it has to be in the spring, it has to be in the month of Nisan. Which leads us to great surprise when Moses is confronted by a bunch of people who come and they say that we are impure and we cannot keep the Passover in its associated time, we don't want to be left out of this iconic annual celebration and what can we do? So Moses said to them, "Stand by and let me hear what instructions the Lord gives about you." It almost sounds like you're talking to an operator at a service bureau and she goes, hold on, I got to talk to my manager. So Moses escalates the call and then he says, speak to the Israeli people, saying, when any of you or your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or on a long journey, would offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord. They shall offer it in the second month. And he goes on to say that for now and forever, that if for whatever reason and there are a few caveats, but for most reasons that are beyond your control, if you could not observe the Passover ceremony in all of its details in the month of Nisan, you can do it exactly a month later. And so what I would like to Adam is to ask you, what do you think this message tells us about both Passover, but more importantly about Judaism? A Mintz [00:04:03] I think the idea of giving a second chance is an unbelievable idea. And it's amazing that the Torah teaches it in such a strange way. But it's really about getting a second chance and it's about the fact that people don't want to be left out. They felt that they lost out, that they were able to give up the first Passover. So they got a second chance wiyh the second Passover. And what an amazing lesson about giving back, getting second chances. G Stern [00:04:31] You know, I totally agree. And that's I think one of the reasons it's so fascinates me. But again, I want to emphasize that, you know, you could say you got a second chance if you forgot to put on tefillin in the morning, you can put it on in the afternoon, or if you forgot to give to tzedaka, you can do it later. But the lesson here is so emphatic because it picks the one holiday that in numerouse places in the tTorah, in the Bible that says you got to do it on time, you got to do it, "b'moado", in its fixed time, and it's precisely that one that it gives that wonderful message that you make reference to, which is you have another chance. You never miss the boat. Don't you think that's remarkable? A Mintz [00:05:20] It is more I think yes, it is remarkable. G Stern [00:05:25] So it seems to me though that it's remarkable. But it also raises a question because clearly the message could have been given on another holiday on Sukkoth and it could have been given for another mitzvah. It's almost like there's a conflict, a contradiction in terms that it's speaking from both sides of its mouth. It's saying you've got to do it in its right season. All these guys need to have it at another time. You can do it at another time. And I think that's one of the things that really intrigued me about this and made me starting to think about the Jewish calendar. And the way I want to introduce my thoughts on the Jewish calendar is with a joke. The joke goes as follows. There's a Hasidic rabbi and he's getting on to the flight and he sees that he's sitting next to a nun. And, you know, everybody is traveling home for the holidays. It's in December. And he says, you know, I don't want her to think that we are so insulated that we can't carry on a conversation. So he says, what should I talk to her about? And finally, it dawns on him and he turns to her and he says, So, Miss, are the holidays early or late this year? And of course, that's a joke for Jews who every year before either the high holidays at the end of the summer or before Passover, we ask, are the holidays early or late this year? And the concept of the holidays being early or late, I think is something that is essential and that only Jews who follow what is a combination of the solar calendar and the lunar calendar can understand because we have a calendar that literally follows the moon. So if you follow the stars or the Zodiac, you know that every main Jewish holiday occurs when the moon is full and the 14th of the month and we are very tied into the tides, the warp, the ebb and flow of the of the lunar year. But on the other hand, we follow the seasons or the temps of the the calendar of the year. So it's adjusted. And every year, every so often, every three or four years, we have what's called a leap year in Hebrew. It's an iber shana or shana m'uberet, a pregnant year, so to speak. And that's why Jews have this question of is it early or late? And I would say no obvious biblical source for this. I'm going to argue that maybe "Pesach Sheni" , the second Passover can shed some light on the lunasol leap year. Maybe it has something to say about this hybrid lunar and solar calendar. But, Rabbi, have you ever given that thought in terms of 1) how unique our calendar is and 2) whether there is any biblical source for this very complex fixing of the calendar? A Mintz [00:08:45] Well, so let's talk about the calendar. We have a calendar baced on the moon, and that's the way our calendar works every month is either twenty nine or thirty days because the lunar month, the month based on the moon is twenty nine and a half. Whereas the year based on the moon is two hundred and fifty four days. The year based on the sun is three hundred and sixty five days. Every single year we lose 11 days. What does that mean loose 11 days? Means that the holidays as your joke has it Geoffrey, the holidays fall out 11 days earlier than they fall out the year before. That happens every single year. That happens to the Moslems, too. That's why Ramadan is never fixed. Ramadan, there's no corrective. Each year. Ramadan falls out eleven days earlier than the year before. So sometimes Ramadan is in the summer. Sometimes Ramadan is in the winter. Just depends. In the Jewish calendar. We have a corrective because we lose eleven days. The problem, with losing 11 is that the Towra describes Passover as taking place during the spring, every three years we lose Passover because 11 days every year, thirty three days, it's a month early, it ends up before the beginning of spring. So therefore, seven times in 19 years, we add a leap month as the corrective. Next year, 5782 is going to be a leap year. Rosh Hashanah. Actually, again, your joke is the night of Labor Day can't be earlier, but Passover is going to be the end of April. It's going to be a very long winter next year because of the correction of the calendar. So that's why we have a unique calendar, because it's not like the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the sun, but it's not like the Moslem calendar that's based only on the moon. It's a combination of the two. G Stern [00:11:19] That was an amazingly good explanation. I do think that this concept of early or late and we can joke about it is intimately involved with what is unique about the Jewish calendar. As you said, the Christian calendar follows the Roman calendar and was totally solar based. So that Christmas and Easter they occur pretty much based on the Solar calendar and whether the moon is in ascent or not, whether the stars are in a particular alignment, it has no bearing. It doesn't have that connection to that aspect of nature. And the Muslim calendar is intimately connected with the lunar phases, but loses the sense of the trapos of the tropical change of the seasons and is not connected to agriculture. And then obviously it's not connected to times in history happened at a particular period. So I think we can truly say that the Jewish calendar is unique among the Abrahamic religions. And as usual, it's a little bit harder to defend something that is not here or not there. But I think at the most basic level, the idea of being early or late is not a scientific term. You'll never hear in math or in science early or late. If a phenomenon needs to happen, it happens when it needs to happen. And I think getting back to the message that we started with about Pesach Sheni, the second Passover, the make-up Passover, I think baked into our calendar is in fact this concept of it's never too late. But I would add to that and say maybe it's never too early. In other words, not trying to be Einsteinian, but time is relative and there are openings on either side. But in any case, what I have never realized before I started preparing for this week, I had always felt that PesachSheni. the second Passover was for individuals, but it was not for the whole nation. And as a result, I felt that there was no connection between the Second Passover and where literally you are taking Passover and you're saying it's not this month, it's next month, which is what you do in a leap year. And I thought there was no connection to this corrective nature of the Jewish calendar. But I discovered in the Book of Chronicles a story about Hezekiah, who at the time when the Jewish people had been conquered and had fallen into idolatry, there was a religious revival. And he summoned everyone over the Land of Israel for Passover. And it says that the king and his officers and the congregation in Jerusalm had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month. So here is a leader, a king who takes the whole nation of Israel and decides, and he gives an explanation that there wasn't enough time, they didn't have enough time to get purified. They didn't have enough time to come from the suburbs, so to speak. But for whatever reason, he decided that the whole nation should celebrate Passover not this month, but next month, that this month was not going to be the Nisan of the Passover. It was going to be next month. And so a bell rang in my head and I said to myself, well, maybe this is a biblical source for the correction that we do in the Jewish year and maybe some of the lessons that we take away from Pesach Sheni, the second Passover and the leap year are one in the same. And as I said before, it's not only never too late, but never too early either. And what intrigued me further was that there was a sense of sin involved with this. In other words, the the priests who went ahead with the king's decree and celebrated Passover the second month. It says about them that they they they felt bad, they felt ashamed. And the commentaries say they felt the shame because they had caused a leap year. And the king himself brought a sacrifice for atonement, so the rabbis of the Talmud take this and they say that, in fact, he did make a Pesach Sheni slash a leap year for the whole nation. And so, in a sense, from this story, there is a direct connection between the two. And that, to me was exciting. Plus the fact that we kind of have this sense that making this change, after all, it's human beings, we make the change. We decide when there should be a leap year. And there's a sense of kind of, I wouldn't say sinning, but there's a sense of admitting the imperfection of the moment. Rabbi, your thoughts? A Mintz [00:17:16] The idea of imperfection is such a fascinating idea, the idea that the system isn't perfect the way it is, but the system needs a correction and that is something that really resonates with me. Again, the Moslem calendar doesn't have that. The Moslem calendar believes that it's just the calendar based on the moon and however, it falls it falls. But Judaism is willing to accept the fact that it needs a correction. And I think the idea of looking to make things perfect is really a very important lesson from this whole discussion of the calendar. G Stern [00:18:06] So I'm a big believer in comparative religion. We've talked a little bit about Christianity, but I'd like to pick up on something that you just said about the Muslim religion doing what I would call it the pure path. They only follow the moon. And there are a lot of studies that Muhammad studied and heard both Christian and Jewish preachers before he wrote the Koran. And I want to read you one part of the Koran that literally talks about this element of sin in terms of correcting God's calendar, correcting or what I call in terms of the subject, hacking the calendar or hacking the universe. And he writes in the Koran, he says, and by the way, in the Koran, the the word for leap year is NASI. And we're going to get to that in a second. But he says, indeed, the Nasi, postponing our sacred month is an increase in disbelief by which those who have disbelieved are led further away. They make it lawful one year, an unlawful another year to correspond to the number made unlawful by Allah and thus make lawful what Allah has made unlawful. Made pleasing to them is the evil of their deeds, and Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. And in their commentaries they talk about those who use this nasi, this adjustment of the calendar to wage wars when a month doesn't permit them to wage war. So they just push it off to the next month, to do business, to build roads, to do all of these things. And I think this gives you a wonderful perspective in terms of what was, in fact radical, both about Islam, which rejected this hybrid calendar. But I would argue also radical about what the Jews did in terms of having a calendar that was understood to be imperfect and needed man to perfect it. And the key word is that he uses the word Nasi. And if you know about the Jewish doctrine, it says, who can decide when the leap year should be? And it says only the Nasi, only the prince, only the leader of the Jewish people. So clearly, Mohammed was aware of what the Jews had done, understood what its implications were, and rejected it. And I would say, by contrast, there was at that time the Jews understood what they were doing and the power of their adjustable calendar. And this, again, brings up this element of sin that we saw with Hezkiahu who felt that, yes, he had to make a change in the calendar, man had to be involved with this corrective action. But nonetheless, we did it with regret because the world was not perfect. A Mintz [00:21:27] I mean, I think that says at all that idea of the calendar reflecting the fact that the world is not perfect. And number 2) the fact that we have the ability to help make the world perfect, we're not helpless standing by and watching. We're actually part of the process. I think that's an important, extremely important element also. G Stern [00:21:53] And I think it gives us insight into a very strange story that some of us might be aware of, but maybe not. And that was the rabbis in the Talmud were having a discussion about what witnesses to accept in terms of when the new year was to begin. And in beautiful Talmudic fashion, witnesses came, procedurally, everything that they said was correct, the new moon was announced, which meant based on this new moon, Yom Kippur would be at a designated day. And then the next day, the evidence showed that those witnesses were incorrect. And one of the rabbis, Yehoshua, made the obvious argument. He says, if you claim that a woman is not pregnant and the next day she shows up and her belly is is swollen, you know, you're wrong. But the rabbis didn't accept his argument and they objected to the fact that he was arguing from scientific empirical evidence and they were using the God-given ability to determine what the calendar was. And this is what they did. And it's a remarkable story. The Nasi, Rabbi Gamliel, sent a message to this Rabbi Yehoshua, and he says, I decree against you that you appear before me with your staff and with your money on the day on which Yom Kippur occurs, according to your calculation. So he said to the guy, I need you not only to let us continue, you need to show publicly that the day that you want to be Yom Kippur, is not Yom Kippur. So it just shows you how important this sense of man communally can decide when is holiness. You know, Heschel used to say that Shabbat, which comes every seven days without exception, is a cathedral in time. You know, I would argue that what this is saying about holiness of man made time is it's a pop up in time that it's when we determine it. And this you couldn't get a more powerful allegory story to portray that. A Mintz [00:24:20] I think that's an amazing story. I mean, what does that story say to you, Geoffrey? G Stern [00:24:27] It says a number of things. It shows me that the rabbis were talking in a realm that goes beyond empiricism, like I said before, that there is an early and that there is a late and that there are shades of gray. It talks about Rabbini authority that has to be accepted because it's the basis of the social structure. I feel sad for Rabbi Yhoshua who had to show up on his Yom Kippur. A Mintz [00:25:00] Well that's the worst part, right? Yeah. I mean, that's the problematic part. Why did he force them to show up like that? That's the problem. G Stern [00:25:12] It gets back to my question about sin. You feel like they had to do it in order to to cement and to support this notion of what a Jewish holiday is and Holiness is. But on the other hand, they had to sin against Rabbi Joshua because what he said was probably right. And it really goes to the heart of what I'm talking about in terms of agreeing that maybe perfection is imperfection, agreeing that although we always talk about you have to be there at the right time, at the right moment, that there is no right time, that we by convention, not by design, make those magical moments. Maybe that's the lesson. But I definitely feel for Rabbi Joshua A Mintz [00:26:06] Right , we make the right time. it's about human initiative in the process. G Stern [00:26:14] Yes, yes, and it also raises, again, this issue of of sin, how much in religion, how much in the Torah has baked into it, these kinds of situations. Here, we believe in an infinite, infallible, all knowing God who created this amazing world and here we are and we're fixing it. And here we are, God created it, maybe "as if to say" to teach us this lesson but nonetheless, a world was created that was not perfect. And you know, you can't but not think about the excommunication of Galileo and Copernicus and getting back to Christianity, how the whole world was tied to this, this sense of the sun rotating around the earth and all of the theological implications. Today we don't think in those terms about the theological implications of the stars, of the calendar. But in those days, this was serious, serious stuff. You know, there was one of Copernicus's co-scientists, and he wrote a famous quote. It says, "Had God had consulted me before embarking on creation, I would have suggested something simpler." It's so amazing, but this is what they were doing, what the humility that it teaches us in terms of men of God, women of God, theologians, to have to go into the back room and tweak the system a little bit to get it to work. Copernicus himself said, "the theories of my predecessors were like a human figure in which the arms, legs and head were put together in the form of a disorderly monster." I mean, these guys were excommunicated for their observations and for them kind of reconstituting the whole metaphysics of the day. And I think from that perspective, at the end of the day, that's what Pesach Sheni is about. It's a holiday in time. It talks about the sanctification of time, the first commandment that we have deals with the calendar. And yet and yet we have to tweak it. And that humbles both us, but it also humbles us in terms of understanding any divine reason and divine obviousness of any plan. A Mintz [00:29:03] So the calendar actually reflects the integration of God's world and human initiative, God's plan and human initiative. It can't work one without the other. God's plan doesn't work on its own, but we can't have human initiative without God's plan. G Stern [00:29:25] Absolutely. And I think there were scholars who are looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls and you know, there were different groups there. They all kind of rejected the religion of the day. They were out there for purity reasons. And some of them had 60 day cycles in their calendar. But they literally talked about the heavenly calendar and the earthly calendar. And I think that really we're talking about heavenly and earthly and the fact thatit is not a a simple puzzle that fits so nicely together and that it needs tweaking and that our measly senses and brain power are not enough to understand the design. And maybe that's the most basic lesson. And the lesson of "HaHodesh ha'zeh l'chem" that "this should be your month". And of course, we can't ignore the fact that Hodesh, which is month, also means "Hidush" "renewal", it means "invention". And maybe that's ultimately at the source of of what we need to do in our calendar on a daily basis. We need to try to adjust to the forces that we can control and meet and bring together heaven and earth in some fashion. A Mintz [00:30:59] I really love that, I love the way we put this all together. I think that's great. G Stern [00:31:04] Thanks. Are there any questions or any comments among our faithful that I can entertain or should we finish early? As the saying goes, we're twenty nine minutes into the half hour, so we're not going to finish too early. But maybe that's the takeaway, that sometimes we can finish early and that because everything has been said that needs to be said. Alice Meyer is invited to come up. E Meyer [00:31:38] I just wanted to say thank you. That was fabulous. G Stern [00:31:42] Well, thanks for joining us. It was fabulous to have you. I know you know how much I love "Pesach Sheni". E Meyer [00:31:48] Yes, we do. Yes, we do. G Stern [00:31:51] But this week and this week and this week, I went a little deeper. E Meyer [00:31:56] Was it was I just really I love I love the way you started it. And this was a great session. Thank you so much. G Stern [00:32:04] Thank you, Elise. Michael, how are you today? M Stern[00:32:07] I'm great. And another great session. And you go God's will, man's will, Geoffrey Stern, say, shall we end it a minute early? And here we are at four thirty. And just an example of that happening in real time right now. G Stern [00:32:26] Love it. Love it. M Stern [00:32:29] Thank you. Thank you, Rabbi. It's great listening to you both. Thank you so much. Shabbat shalom to everybody. G Stern [00:32:36] Shabbat Shalom. One and all.