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Was Passover Celebrated Late this Year?

Was Passover Celebrated Late this Year?

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Question:

It seems that this year’s holiday of Passover was much later in the year than it was last year.

Last year, the first night of Passover was March 29. The first night of Passover this year was April 18. This is a disparity of three weeks. Similarly, the holiday of Hanukkah this past year was in November. Next year, Hanukkah will be in late December.

What exactly happened to delay the holiday of Passover this year?

Answer:

The Jewish calendar follows the moon, or the lunar cycle. According the Jewish calendar, a month is the length of time it takes for the moon to revolve around the earth—about 29½ days. Some of the Hebrew months therefore have 29 days, while others have 30.

Twelve months consisting of 29½ days each makes 354 days, the lunar year. The sun revolves around the earth in roughly 365¼ days— a solar year. This means that the lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year. If the Jewish calendar were to exclusively follow the lunar year, it would take a mere four years for Passover to be in the winter. In a few more years, Passover would be pushed all the way back to the fall, then to the summer. This would be inappropriate, as the verse (Deuteronomy 16:1) clearly states that Passover should be “in the spring.”

To resolve the shortfall of days between the lunar year and the solar year, the Jewish calendar system adds a whole month to certain years. This month is added on at the end of the twelfth month of the lunar cycle, or at the end of winter. A Jewish leap year adds another Adar, so that those years have an Adar I and an Adar II. Over the course of a 19-year cycle, this extra month is added seven times: in the third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years of the cycle. The current 19-year cycle began in the Jewish year of 5758, October 1997. This year (2011) is the fourteenth year of the cycle; it is a “leap year,” with the extra month pushing Passover deep into April.

This year, then, is one in which attention is paid to both the sun and the moon. It is a year in which the dichotomy between the two luminaries the Almighty created in the heavens becomes adjusted.

The moral lessor we could learn from the Jewish calendar following the moon, as the sages of the Talmud put it: “The Jewish people calculate their year to the moon, for they are compared to the moon.”1

The Jewish people are compared to the moon for a few reasons: The moon is the smaller of the luminaries, just as the Jewish people are called (Deuteronomy 7:7), “the smallest of the nations.” Also, just as the moon waxes and wanes, similarly, the Jewish people move up or down, but they are never in the same place. Things are sometimes good, and sometimes not. To this day, there have always been countries that have been kind and good to the Jewish people, and there are always countries that have persecuted the Jewish people.

Having the sun play a role in the Jewish calendar though—especially in regards to aligning the holiday of Passover to the spring—indicates that the Jewish people have a connection with the sun as well.

In the story of creation, the Torah relates that the Almighty created both the sun and the moon (Genesis 1:15), “to give light upon the earth.” They both affect the earth, including that which grows from it.

Yet, there is an obvious difference between the light of the sun and the moon: The sun radiates its light in the same constant manner, without perceptible change from day to day. If the sky is clear, one sees the same amount of the sun’s globe every single day. The moon, on the other hand, becomes “renewed” or “reborn” (in Hebrew, molad) at the beginning of each month. It begins as a narrow crescent, becoming fuller and brighter from day to day, until it attains its complete fullness and brightness on the fourteenth or fifteenth day of the Jewish month. Then it becomes narrower and smaller in the month’s second half, until it disappears from sight.

In other words, the sun and the moon symbolize two different characteristics. The sun represents the element of sameness and constancy; the moon represents change and renewal.

There is a further fundamental distinction between the sun and the moon: The moon’s light, however brightly it shines, does not transform night into day, even at its maximum fullness; night remains night, and dark. On the other hand, as weak as the light of the sun may be through the heaviest of clouds, it still creates the appearance and atmosphere of day and light.

In a year like this one, when the sun and moon—with their diverse messages of consistency and change and night and day—are aligned through the Jewish calendar, their combination provides an important message and lesson.

There are aspects of daily life that are the same from day to day. For instance, rising from sleep, getting dressed, engaging in prayer, eating with the same family, going to work along the same streets, in the same office, and so forth. This is the “sun” in people. At the same time, it is expected of a person to generate a “moon” attitude, a renewal and resurgence of inspiration and joy, particularly in those areas that are repeated every day. A person is thus liberated from the monotony and tedium which can keep one in psychological bondage.

And then there are special days: birthdays, holidays, vacation time, the Shabbat and so forth. These days typically provide a change of scenery, a change of mindset, even a renewal. These are “moon” moments. The inspiration and joy from these exciting days should be allowed to last, not just for the duration of the special day, but continually, like the unchanging sun. Thus, for example, it says (Deuteronomy 16:3), “You shall remember the days of Exodus from Egypt all the days of your life.” The “Season of Liberation” is not just on Passover, but should be carried over—in terms of freedom from all inner and outer limitations—throughout the whole year.

The above applies to other aspects of the sun and moon: Those who are blessed with “day” and “light” in their lives must focus upon those who, as bright as they may be, cannot get past “night.” And those who must endure “night” should remember that nights do end and eventually turn into day.2

Please see The Nineteen-Year Marriage and The Judaism Website’s other selections on the Jewish leap year.

Footnotes
1.

Interestingly, this commandment—to set up a calendar following the lunar cycle—was the first one given to the Jewish people as a nation while they were still in Egypt.

2.

Inspired by a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, the eve of Passover 1984.

Rabbi Yossi Lew is the assistant rabbi of Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia.
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joe ftzz far rockaway April 23, 2016

Hi, why the Passover is celebrated in the first month of the year, whereas , the new year is celebrated within the same first month?
thanks. Reply

Anonymous usa April 22, 2016

when to celebrate Passover period I thought Passover was supposed to be celebrated on the first full moon of the Spring Equinox as seen from Jerusalem, Nisan 14th
Reply

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