Last Shabbat, my wife and I hosted our son and daughter-in-law as we often do. I put out some nice, bright white-and-yellow table napkins with little butterflies by each place-setting. My keen-eyed son (why else would I employ him to proofread my book manuscripts?) espied in a very faint yellow fancy script the words Shana Tova in the bottom left corner of the napkins (which had escaped my vision) and very tactfully pointed it out! Not one to blush easily, I quipped that we were celebrating Tu b’Shevat – which is a Rosh haShana of sorts – just a couple of weeks late!
Only the following morning, when I participated, as I do each year, in the annual Sydney Chevra Kadisha service, did it dawn on me that I could have countered with something far more pertinent!
The annual service of the SCK takes place on the Sunday nearest to zayin Adar (7th Adar), the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabeinu. On this day, members of the CK traditionally mark with a fast followed by a Dinner at which tributes to the selfless work (chesed shel emet) of the CK are made. The dinner has something of a celebratory nature as it marks the anniversary of the day that the CK had a holiday in the year 2488CE, as they were not needed to bury Moses since G-D did that job for them (Deut 34:6).
At our annual service in Sydney, members of the SCK read out all the names of those who died in the immediate twelve months prior. Thus in this respect, 7th Adar marks the demarcation point between one year and another.
As the names were read out this year, I scanned the many pages with growing consternation. The list seemed a lot longer than in past years. Indeed, when I counted the names later, I was unnerved to discover that there were exactly 400. The previous year’s total had been 344, about average. Members of the CK were fairly certain that this past twelve-month total of losses was a record high. Barukh Dayan ha-Emet!
However, I reminded myself of a well-known Gemara which sheds light on another, happier, association of zayin Adar.
When [Haman saw that] the lot [to annihilate the Jews] fell out in the month of Adar, he rejoiced greatly. He said: “The lot fell out for me in the month when Moses died!” [thinking this was a god omen for him because Adar was somehow an “unlucky” month.] However, Haman dd not realise that while Moses died on 7th Adar, he was also born on 7th Adar.
That Moses was born and died on 7th Adar can be readily deduced from a combination of five Scriptural sources. Joshua, Moses’ successor, led Am Yisrael across the Jordan on 10 Nissan (Joshua 4:19). Earlier, Joshua had directed the people (presumably through Divine instruction) to perform the crossing “in three days’ time” (1:12). Thus the command would have been issued on 7 Nisan. This should have been immediately “after the death of Moses” (1:1) except that a thirty-day mourning period for Moses in the plains of Moab intervened (Deut 34:8). Working backwards thirty days from 7th Nisan, we arrive at 7 Adar. On the very day he died, 7 Adar, Moses declared “I am 120 years old today!” (Deut 31:1). Thus, Moses died on his birthday.
I would like to introduce a new zayin Adar custom. In addition to reading out the names of those who died during the previous twelve months, I would like us to read out the names of the babies who were born during those twelve months. After all, what could be a more fitting day to mark a “new year for births” – or why not call it a new year for life – than Moshe Rabeinu’s birthday!
So maybe it was not so inappropriate for me to put out New Year serviettes last Shabbat, the Shabbat prior to 7th Adar!