In the Jewish calendar, years don’t leap – they get pregnant. How so? Well, every once in a while the Jewish year contains an extra month of Adar, and the year is “pregnant” with this 13th month. This year is such a year.
Why does it contain an extra month? Well, calculating the Jewish calendar is an intricate balance between the seasons of the sun and the cycles of the moon. The sun and the moon dance to the beat of a different drum. Which means the moon doesn’t actually and perfectly cycle through 12 months each solar year. Because of this, if we followed a strictly lunar calendar our seasons would be off.
Who cares? We care, big time, and to get them to dance together we are willing to add an entire extra month to our busy schedules. In Hebrew, adding this extra month, is called the Sod Ha’ Ibbur, which means “The Secret of Pregnancy.” Why is it a secret? The simple explanation is that it was never known in advance which year would get the 13th month. At times the month was added for winter needs, or spring needs, such as unripe barley, the growth of fruit, wet earth on the roads or even when young pigeons had not become fledged. Whatever the particular reason for that year, the intent was always clear – to align our lives, moment to moment and day to day, with the natural world.
The deeper secret is … that it’s more than just a mitzvah, it’s the mitzvah. A mitzvah is a type of law, like a law of nature, from Creator to Creation, and the calculation of the moon is the very first mitzvah. In fact, Exodus describes this mitzvah as being given to people immediately upon leaving Egypt even before the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, asserts that the Torah as a whole should have started with this mitzvah. For it is this deep knowledge of, and alignment with, the natural world and its cycles that we are famously described as being taken out of Egypt and made a “Chosen People.” It is the explicit answer to what many Jews have undoubtedly asked over the centuries – chosen for what?
When we speak of being Chosen, it is in the sense of Isiah’s “Light Unto the Nations,” which is as Deuteronomy declares, “Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, that, when they hear these decrees, shall say: ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Our tradition is clear as it what these decrees are, as the Talmud says, “what is the wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples? It is the science of the cycles and the planets.” We are chosen because we choose to align ourselves with a deep knowledge of the natural world and its cycles.
Huh? Haven’t we lost that? Perkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, an ancient Midrashic source, grappled with this same question and explained that the Sod Ha’ibbur, the deep understanding and alignment with the natural world, had been lost during earlier exiles and returned, and foretold that it would be lost again during our exile and would surely return once again. For everything is a revolution – a cycle – like the monthly waxing and waning of the moon. In our own time, we are witnessing a revolution and rebirth of the deep desire to understand the natural world and to be in alignment with it, the return of the Sod Ha’Ibbur, the Secret of Pregnancy.
In the Baltimore area, Pearlstone Center is a growing resource for that rebirth, with an array of exiting earth-based programs. Pearlstone’s Passover Family Farm Festival is on Tuesday, April 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and will be celebrating spring thanks to the extra 13th month this year. Festival-goers will be learning different ways of natural building, making bike-blender smoothies, learning about wild edibles, spending time with our animals and enjoying a farm-to-table, kosher for Passover lunch. This is one of the many great ways to learn about the land in the context of the Jewish calendar!
Pearlstone will also being hosting The Shavout Beit Midrash on June 10-14, which will include all night Torah study, a beautiful Shabbat experience, cheese-caking and much more!
For a fully immersive multi-day family experience, Family Farm Camp, June 30-July 4, offers campfires, music, harvesting veggies, milking goats, collecting eggs, cheese making, pickling, pita baking and a warm spirited Shabbat!