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relaxing in spare time

Don’t ever waste time. It is more valuable than you may realize. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Bo” (Exodus 10:1–13:16), and in we have the birth of the Jewish calendar.

Unlike any other culture or civilization, the Jewish calendar works with both the sun and the moon.

Though the months follow the lunar cycle, there is a rule that the Jewish calendar must always be aligned with the seasons, something which is governed by the sun.

For example, Passover must always be in the spring. The discrepancy between the solar year (365 days) and the lunar year (354 days) is resolved by adding a 13th month to the year, to form a “leap year.” This is done approximately every three years, creating a 13-month year. Such a year is called a “pregnant year” in Hebrew.

The extra month is added to the month of Adar, the last of the 12 months. Hence, in leap years we have two Adars — Adar I and Adar II. If no adjustment is made, Passover would occur 11 days earlier each year, eventually drifting into winter, then fall, summer, and then spring again. The festival of “spring” can’t take place when there is snow falling outside!

Back in the Biblical and Talmudic eras, the High Court (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem would decide and declare when a new month had begun. Witnesses would inform the court that the new moon was seen. If the witnesses were believed, the new month was declared. The members of the court were well versed in astronomy. They would ask the witnesses questions like: “Where was the sun in relation to the moon? Was it to the north or south? How wide was it?” and so on. If the testimony of the two witnesses corroborated, their testimony was accepted, and a new month was declared.

After the Temple’s destruction, a fixed calendar was instituted. This is the permanent calendar that is used by Jews all over the world today. It was “fixed” to ensure that there would never be conflicts of any type.

For example, the first day of Rosh Hashana will never take place on a Friday, because, among other reasons, there must always be a shofar blowing on the second day of Rosh Hashana and the shofar cannot be blown on Shabbat. So too, Yom Kippur will never fall on a Friday because if this happened, it would make preparing for Shabbat extremely difficult.

Not only are there Jewish years and months, but there are also Jewish hours and Jewish seconds A Jewish hour is calculated by taking the total time between sunrise and sunset and dividing it into twelve equal parts. So, for example, if the sun rises at 5 a.m. and sets at 7:30 p.m., one “Jewish hour” will be 72.5 minutes long.

What this means is that the deadline to recite the Shema prayer, which is “by the end of the third hour” each day, would be at 8:37:30 a.m. and not 8:00 a.m., which would be three hours “on the clock.”

Jewish law also has its own measurement for seconds. In Jewish law the smallest measurement of time is known as a “chelek” which is 3.33 seconds. Now try saying 4:30:41 pm in “Jewish Calendar Talk!”

A Jewish calendar date always begins at night, reminiscent of how God created the world, and the days, as it says, “and there was evening and there was morning, it was one day.” A day always started at night. This is why Shabbat begins on Friday night and goes until Saturday night.

But while a day starts and ends at night, it is not exactly clear what is to be defined as “night.” The period between sunset and dark (defined as the appearance of three stars), an approximately 30-minute “zone”, is unclear. This is why Shabbat begins at sunset, as it is the earliest possible definition of night, while Shabbat ends when it is dark and there are stars in the sky, which is the latest definition of “night.” Because violating Shabbat is so severe, we “play it safe” and begin Shabbat at sunset and only end it at dark. This way all our “bases” are covered.

Nissan, corresponding roughly to April, is the first month on the Jewish calendar. Before the Jews left Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron: “This month shall be to you the head of months.”

This brings us to something very unique to the Jewish calendar and found nowhere else: The first month of the year is Nisan (April) but the new year begins in Tishrei (September) when we celebrate Rosh Hashana!

Judaism is quite particular and exacting when it comes to time. Dozens of rituals can be rendered invalid if the proper timing was missed. This is an important lesson for us all: Don’t ever waste time. It is more evaluable than you may realize.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.



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