An extra happy month
By Rabbi Haviva Horvitz, Temple Beth Sholom, Middletown
Have you ever looked closely at the month of February? What does it have to offer? It is the shortest month of the year with fewer than 30 days. It is usually cold and dark, and frequently depressing. It is the middle of the winter.
We celebrate Presidents Day on the third Monday of the month, even though only four presidents (so far) were born in February: Ronald Reagan, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. In case you were wondering, the month with the greatest number of presidential births is October: John Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight David Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter.
On the other hand, earlier in the month, on Feb. 2, there is the often-overlooked celebration of Groundhog Day.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, there was a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed in hopes of bringing blessings to their households for the remaining winter.
After some time, it evolved into a day of weather prognostication as found in the following English folk song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, Winter, and come not again.
The addition of an animal to this tradition is believed to have been introduced in Germany, when the lore explained that if the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day, there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
The hedgehog was replaced by the groundhog when German settlers came to the United States and chose a more local hibernating animal.
It wasn’t until 1886 that Groundhog Day appeared in the local newspaper in Punxsutawney, Pa.
Then, in 1993, a movie staring Bill Murray came out called Groundhog Day. It was about a cynical TV weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day.
His predicament drives him to distraction until he sees a way of turning the situation to his advantage. Imagine: what would you do with a day you can relive until you “get it right?”
At Temple Beth Sholom in Middletown, we discussed a similar idea at the beginning of November, when we turned the clocks back an hour.
We gain an “extra” hour, so what do we do with it? If you could relive any hour, which hour would it be? If you could redo any hour, which would it be? It was a great discussion.
However, in Judaism, we don’t do anything in a small way.
Rather than that extra hour in November (which we’ll give back in March) or an extra day in February, a Jewish leap year adds a complete month, an additional month of Adar.
In the Talmud, Taanit 29a, it states: “When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy.”
And since Judaism is a religion of happiness, when the time comes to add a month — which helps keep the lunar calendar aligned with the seasons so that the holidays fall at the right time of year — we add to the happiest month of the year.
The Jewish leap year occurs seven times in a 19-year cycle. The added month is called Adar I and comes before the “real” month of Adar (Adar II in leap years).
Therefore, the festival of Purim is celebrated on Adar 14 during Adar II, but there is a minor holiday, known as Purim Katan (little Purim), which is celebrated on the 14th of Adar I.
Laughter is the expression of unbounded joy, the joy that results from witnessing light issue from darkness, as is the case with regard to the miracle of Purim; the fear of the decree of Haman transforms into the exuberant laughter of the festival of Purim.
Another example of laughter in the Hebrew Bible is that of the elderly Sarah learning that she will become pregnant. Her son’s name, Isaac, is derived from the Hebrew word for laughter.
A Jewish leap year is referred to as a shanah meuberet, a pregnant year. Since one of the focuses of this issue of The Dayton Jewish Observer is marriage, it’s convenient that the month for the marriage issue (Adar I) comes before the month of pregnancy (Adar II).