“Guard the month of the spring”
The scent of spring is in the air. In today’s Daf Yomi, we are told that on the fifteen of Adar (which was late February this year), there was a great deal of industry in Jerusalem to prepare for the coming of Nisan and the spring. The roads and streets were repaired, and any leftover obligations were attended to. This included “matters necessary for public welfare”such as hearing monetary and capital cases in the courts. All unpleasant tasks were completed for the year. It was in preparation for the coming of the spring and the onset of the month of Nisan and of course, the grand holiday of Passover.
As we learned yesterday, this time coincides with the collection of half-shekels from every male over 20 years old. The collection was designated for three funds: the communal offering, the tabernacle, the socket. But presumably, the half-shekels helped finance the roadwork, the inspection of the fields for impermissible mixing of crops and the after-hours judicial sessions which were held in order to close out the year. In addition to repairing roads caused by damage from winter storms, someone who has transgressed during the year can repair his soul, through the promise of a donation to the temple.
Among the frenetic activities was a ritual we learned about in an earlier Tractate where a woman who is accused of adultery is forced to drink a concoction of a scroll that has been dissolved in water. She was found to be innocent if she emerged from the trial without getting sick. The court would tie up any loose ends of the year by completing these unpleasant (and dare I say Barbaric) tasks which were previously overlooked. And the poor woman would have likely become bloated and unwell from the odd trial by contaminated water.
Passover is a holiday of redemption and renewal. It is a holiday of spring as stipulated in the Torah: “Observe the monthof the spring and keep the Passover unto the Lord your God.” We are reminded that it is in spring that we were rescued from slavery in Egypt. We are told that we must guard the month of Nisan so that the festival of Passover will not arrive too early on the calendar. Afterall, who wants to celebrate renewal in the middle of winter? This was achieved through the insertion of a 13th month in the Jewish leap year.
We are told that there is a discrepancy between the lunar and the solar years, with the former approximately eleven days shorter than the later. I have not quite figured out the math, but trust that it all works out, since Passover often comes in early spring when the first warm days of the season are upon us (but not always, as I remember very cold Passovers when I shivered in my new warm weather clothes).
I did not grow up “on the land” where crops would be pulled out by their roots if they violated the prohibition against diverse kinds as discussed in today’s reading. I do not experience the change of seasons through the spring planting of crops or fall harvest. The changing light in the city is how I know spring is here. The days become longer, and the shadows rise higher in the sky.
The restaurants that shut down for the winter because of restrictions against indoor dining, have opened up again and erected tables on the sidewalks. Some stayed open, but I was never up to eating outdoors in thirty-degree weather. There are more people walking the streets, even during this time of coronavirus when there is still so much nervousness about community spread.
And regardless of what we have lived through during the long winter and how broken-hearted we may be, spring always comes, and on its heels, Passover.