Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Getting Personal with your Leap Year

The new year that will begin tonight, 5779, is a leap year. It will have 385 days instead of the average 355 days that a lunar year generally has. Our calendar has this occurrence every two-three years; seven times in every nineteen-year cycle, to be exact.

The reason for this is because our dates are set according to the lunar cycle (Exodus, 12:1) and the seasons are determined by the solar cycle. By Biblical mandate, Passover must always coincide with Spring (Deuteronomy, 16:1). If not for the leap years with an extra month, our dates would slip back every year and we would find ourselves with Passover in any and all different seasons.

Every Biblical command contains lessons for us beyond the specific situation where and when the command is to be executed. What can we learn from the command to balance out the lunar and solar cycles?

Both the sun and the moon were created with the purpose to illuminate the world with their light. The sun does so in a constant non-changing manner, whereas the moon does so in an ever-changing rhythm. Every day of the month, the moon appears to us differently.

Consistence and change are both present and necessary in our lives as Jews. We have things that we do on a constant basis, and we have those things that we do from time to time. The constant ones are deeply embedded; they create no excitement, though. The novel ones that come and go generate much excitement. The Passover Seder, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Purim are some examples.

The leap year teaches us that it is not enough to have both elements in our lives, we need to blend the qualities of the two, thereby enhancing them both,

How do we introduce the lunar excitement into the solar constance and predictability? One way is by making it personal.

Here is an example.

A Jewish adult male has the obligation to wrap Tefillin on his head and arm every weekday. Although deeply ingrained, it can become very routine and uninspiring. Let’s apply the leap year “recipe” and see what happens.

The main objective for putting on Tefillin is in order to make us aware of the contents of the Tefillin, namely the biblical passages of Shema Israel that proclaim the fact that G-d rules the world and that we are His subjects. We place the Tefillin on our head and arm opposite our heart in order to help channel our thoughts, feelings and actions towards G-d’s service.

It’s getting better, but it can still get stale and we still need the leap year twist.

How about stopping for a moment every morning before putting on the Tefillin to think about a specific thought, feeling and/or behavior that needs tweaking and recalibrating?

Now, there you have a refreshing approach! No two days will be the same! The action of putting on the Tefillin might be identical every day, but its impact and purpose sure won’t be. Every morning you will have a new, personal experience! The routine “solar” Mitzvah has now acquired the “lunar” novelty and excitement.

How do you think the “solar” aspect can be introduced into the “lunar” mitzvot?

Shanah Tovah umetukah!

Based on teachings of the Lubavcitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us.


About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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