(Torah Portion Vayikrah) You’ll Find it All…
This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The month of Nissan is significant because it is the first month of the Jewish calendar, because G-d communicated to Moshe the laws of Rosh Chodesh when the Jews were on the verge of leaving Egypt. Thus the first month sanctified by the sighting of the new moon was Nissan. Since the Jews were redeemed in Nissan it got the status of the first month of the year.
Commentators state that the root of the word Nissan is Nes – which means miracle(s). Our Sages chose this name for the month because of the many miracles that happened to us in the month of Nissan. The first miracle was that the Jews in Egypt boldly took the free roaming idol of the Egyptians, the sheep, into their homes on the 10th of Nissan. Although the Egyptians were upset, miraculously the Jews weren’t harmed. Then of course the Jews slaughtered the sheep, roasted it and ate it during the night before they were miraculously freed. Seven days later the sea split for the Jews and the remaining Egyptians drowned.
Our Sages tell us that just as we were miraculously freed in the month of Nissan, so too, it will be in Nissan that our future redemption will come!
Our law prescribes that the months are based on the waxing and waning of the moon, with the new month beginning with the appearance of the new moon. However, the Torah mandates that the holiday of Passover be celebrated in the springtime and the holiday of Succos be observed with the harvest season, which follows the solar pattern.
Thus the Jewish calendar must synthesize the two methods of calculation, the lunar month and the solar year. The solar year is slightly longer than 365 days, while the lunar year of twelve monthly cycles of 29 and a half days is 354 days, so that the solar year is approximately 11 days longer. This presents a problem for as the years progress, the lunar year lags behind and if it no adjustment were made, Passover would wind up falling in the winter.
The solution as dictated by the Torah is that the Jewish court adds a thirteenth month – a second Adar whenever the shortfall of 11 days per year accumulates to approximately 30 days.
Originally, the new month was sanctified and established through the testimony of two witnesses who saw the first crescent of the moon and conveyed it to the High court.
After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, Hillel II established the permanent Jewish calendar system that we currently follow. A leap year now occurs seven times in a nineteen-year cycle.
The Talmud relates that Rabban Gamliel stated (2200 years ago), “I have it from the authority of my father’s father that the renewal of the moon takes place after not less than twenty nine and a half days, two thirds of an hour and seventy three parts of an hour.”
Maimonides states: Each hour of the day is divided in 1080 parts. The interval between one new moon and the next is 29 days plus 12 hours and 793 parts i.e. 29.530594 days.
After years of research based on calculations using satellites, hairline telescopes, laser beams and super-computers, scientists at NASA have determined that the length of time between one new moon and the next is: 29.530588 days. NASA’s calculation differs from that of our tradition by a negligible .000006, or six millionths of a day.
This is a clear example of what the Mishna in Avoth – Chapters of our Fathers, states – delve into the Torah and continue to delve into the Torah for everything is contained within it!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family