Byline: Rabbi Robert Gamer
If one were to ask most Jews when the Jewish year begins, many would likely answer "Rosh Hashana."
Yet the Torah teaches us that Rosh Hashana, which falls on the first and second days of Tishrei, is actually in the seventh month of the Jewish religious calendar (Numbers 29:1).
Instead it is the month of Nisan (which this year begins Monday night, March 22) that is the first month of the Jewish calendar. We read in the special Torah reading for the Shabbat, "This month (Nisan) shall mark for you the beginning of the months of the year for you." (Exodus 12:2). This verse is a part of the special reading today because this Shabbat, known as Shabbat HaHodesh, is connected with the start of Nisan.
The cycle of the Jewish calendar may seem to be random. Yet if we look closely, we see that the Jewish year has a logic of its own.
Passover, the celebration of the ancient Israelite Exodus from Egypt begins the cycle. Passover is linked to the holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) by the counting of the Omer, which begins on the second night of Passover and continues for 49 days. Shavuot is the traditional date of the Revelation of Torah at Sinai.
Forty days after Shavuot occurs the 17th of Tammuz, the day on which Jews fast in memory of the breaching of the walls of ancient Jerusalem by Titus in 70 C.E. This begins a period of semi-mourning in the Jewish calendar that culminates on Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples along with other tragedies in Jewish history.
There are 40 days from the 17th of Tammuz to the beginning of the month of Elul. Beginning with the first of Elul, we blow the shofar daily in the synagogue (except for Shabbat) and add Psalm 27 to our liturgy.
This is also the beginning of the season of repentance that includes Rosh Hashana and culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is 40 days after the first of Elul. …