LEAPIN’ LEAP YEARS

This Shabbat, much of the world will be served a quadrennial reminder. Instead of February being comprised of exactly four weeks, this year an extra day will be added. As a result, newspapers will show photos of elderly couples celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary together with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, even though they were married in 1960. I recall officiating at a marriage Saturday night, February 29th, 1992. Come Shabbat, the bride and groom will be celebrating their 6th wedding anniversary.

But February 29th serves to remind us that calendrically speaking, we live in an imperfect world. Otherwise, why would adjustments be necessary to the Gregorian calendar? For us as a people, calendar adjustments are old hat. We Jews have been adjusting our calendar far more frequently (seven times every nineteen years as opposed to once every 4 years), far longer (millennia rather than centuries), and with results that are far more reaching (have you ever heard of Christmas being early or late, lehavdil like the High Holy Days) than the greater society in which we live. 

For those who nevertheless maintain that the world HaShem gave us is perfect, then wouldn’t it make perfect sense for us to have a perfect calendar requiring no adjustments?

February 29th ought to be able to serve yet another purpose. It ought to remind us that from the standpoint of religious observance, we Jews are simply not part of the Gregorian calendar. The first seder will never fall on a Sunday night, a Tuesday night, or a Thursday night. It matters not whether there is 365 days to the year or 366. Similarly, an extra day at the end of February will in no way affect the day of the week when we usher in the Jewish New Year. It can never happen that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be a Sunday, a Wednesday or a Friday. It is therefore safe to bet that the last day of February (whether it be the 28th or the 29th) will on no way affect when (on what day of the week) we celebrate our Holidays. Succinctly stated, we Jews have our festivals; the Christians have theirs.

February 29th ought to be a day of challenge, regardless what day of the week it falls. While it is true that each life that comes into this world is allotted a specific numbers of days, it is also true that every so often, we are gifted with an extra month (on the Jewish calendar) or an extra day (on the Gregorian calendar). It would therefore behoove us to take to heart Psalm 90:12, where we ask HaShem: Teach us to count our days. Properly understood, we are asking HaShem for the ability to make our days count. Shouldn’t HaShem have  every right to ask us what we did with the gift of an extra day in February that He gave us? What answer will we be able to give? American culture has desensitized us to gift of time. As a result, we ignore the magic of the moment, as well as what can be accomplished, by setting apart say, 20 minutes each day and devoting that time to a special project or mitzvah. With this in mind, my suggestion, nay my challenge to you, is to do something special on the extra day, the month of February accords you. Because it coincides with Shabbat, invite someone to Shabbat dinner to celebrate “leap day”. Send someone flowers with a note wishing them a “happy leap day”. Drop someone a note and date it, February 29th, just to tell them how special that person is. After all, how often does one receive notes or any other correspondence, dated February 29th? If you are not a regular attendee at Shabbat services, what better day is there to make a leap of faith than “Leap Day?” Shouldn’t an extra that comes once every 1,460 days, merit a deed or activity that is extra special?  

I hope that February 29th serves as an opportunity for us to realize how fragile calendars are. I would like to believe that February 29th sensitizes us to the difference between the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian one. I pray that we make that leap of faith and do something phenomenal on a day regarded by many as merely a phenomenon.