|Illustration by Sefira Ross.|
It had been a while since my friend, Sally, and I last had lunch together.
“Today’s a very special day,” she announced. “Today are my birthdays--my Jewish birthday as well as my secular birthday.”
I smiled, congratulating her and wishing her many more years in health.
“Do you know how seldom the two birthdays come together?” she asked.
Actually, I did. Every 19 years.
“Exactly,” she said. “I remember, because 19 years ago, my father passed away. What an emotional year that was…”
Every 19 years, the Jewish calendar which is based on the lunar cycle meets up exactly with the Gregorian calendar which is based on the solar system.
At the end of 12 months, the 29.5 day lunar month falls short of the 365.25 day solar year. But the Jewish calendar insists on reconciling the two cycles. Its solution is to add a leap month every few years which makes it ahead of the solar year in some years and lagging behind in others. Only in the nineteenth year do the two meet up—and thus my friend’s joint birthdays.
But why is the Jewish calendar so complicated? Why insist on being in sync with the solar cycle while following the lunar one?
Because Judaism believes in synthesizing and integrating opposites in order to live a fuller life.
And so, we incorporate the moon’s creative qualities of rebirth while at the same time enjoying the sun’s consistency and constancy. We remain faithful to our traditions while incorporating the ebb and flow of our creative talents. We follow the lunar months while retaining the sun’s seasons.
This brings me to the 19th day of Kislev, celebrated this week.
On this day, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia and was able to redouble his efforts of disseminating his teachings. And perhaps there is significance to this special day falling on the 19th --a number that teaches us how to harmonize opposites.
The Tanya, the foundational text by the Alter Rebbe speaks about a battle that is waged every day within every human being between his G‑dly and animal soul. The animal soul is our physical self—our drive to be, our instinct for self-preservation and self-fulfillment. The G‑dly soul is the source of our spirituality—our drive for self-transcendence, our yearning to escape our material existence and connect with the eternal.
Victory is not offered by negating the physical but rather engaging its power and passion for spiritual pursuits. Life is about fusion--partaking of life's pleasures while not being defined by them, but employing them in the service of G‑d.
We succeed when the body looks at the world and sees it as the soul does, as a means for expressing a greater, G‑dly purpose.
Here’s to a great week ahead--celebrating our physical life while using it for higher meaning!