Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tezaveh 5763/ February 15, 2003

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat  Tetzaveh 5763/ February 15, ţ 2003


Moses’ Yahrzeit: Adar I or Adar II?


Prof. Ely Merzbach

Department of Mathematics


A.  Tradition has it that Moses was born and died on the seventh of Adar.   There are many customs associated with this date, based on Tractate Kiddushin 38a:

How do we know that he passed away on the seventh of Adar?  Because it is said (Deut. 34:5-8):  “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there,” and it is written, “And the Israelites bewailed Moses in the steppes of Moab for thirty days.”   And it is also written, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord” (Josh. 1:1), as well as, “My servant Moses is dead.  Prepare to cross the Jordan,” and, “Go through the camp and charge the people thus:   Get provisions ready, for in three days’ time you are to cross the Jordan,” (v. 11), and, “The people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month.”   Subtract thirty-three days, and you arrive at the seventh of Adar as the date of Moses’ death.

Rashi explains:

They remained on the steppes of Moab, bewailing Moses, for thirty days.  After Joshua was commanded to lead them, they took three days preparing to journey, and on the third day they crossed the Jordan, as it is written:  “in three days’ time,” and “on the tenth day of the first month.”   Subtract thirty-three days as follows:   ten days from Nisan and twenty three days from Adar, which brings you to the seventh of Adar; six days of the month had passed, and another twenty-three, totaling twenty-nine, for Adar was a short month.

It follows that the day of Moses’ death was in the month of Adar, preceding the month of Nisan.   In other words, either it was a regular year, or it was a leap-year, in which case Moses died in Adar II.

Regarding Moses’ birthday the gemara continues:

How do we know that Moses was born on the seventh of Adar?   For it is said, “He said to them:   I am now [hayyom, literally ‘this day’] one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active” (Deut. 31:2).   The Torah does not generally say “this day,” so what was the Torah trying to teach us, using this phrase?   That the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and fills out the years of the righteous, from day to day and from month to month, as it is said, “I will let you enjoy the full count of your days” (Ex. 23:26).

Midrash Rabbah on the beginning of Exodus (ch. 24) also remarks on this subject:

Rabbi Hanina bar Papa said:  that day (on which Moses was cast into the Nile and rescued) was the twenty-first of Nisan; for the ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He:   Lord of the Universe, is it fitting that the person who is destined to sing praises on the sea on this day should be stricken by means of water on this day?   Rabbi Aha bar Hanina said:   that day was the sixth of Sivan; for the ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He:  is it fitting that the person who is destined to received the Torah on Mount Sinai on this day should be stricken on this day?   They answered:   Moses was born on the seventh of Adar.  As for the opinion that he was thrown into the Nile on the sixth of Sivan, that is clear, since he was hidden three months from the seventh of Adar until the sixth of Sivan; but regarding those who say on the twenty-first of Nisan, it is not clear, yet this is not an insurmountable problem, since that year was a leap year, and the greater part of the first month [Adar], plus the greater part of the last month [Sivan] and the entire month in between [Nisan] could be counted as totaling three months.

Tradition has it that Moses was born in the year 2,369, counting from Creation.  If we extrapolate the fixed Jewish calendar back to the time of Moses, assuming the same calendar were in use then, we arrive at the fact that 2,369 was not a leap year [1].  The year in which Moses died, however, was 2,489, which by similar computations [2] comes out to have been a leap year.   Therefore, according to the sources which we have cited, we can conclude that Moses died in Adar II.

B.  The day of the week on which Moses died is subject to controversy.

In the writings of Rabbi Sar Shalom Gaon it is mentioned that Moses passed away on the Sabbath in the afternoon, and it is for this reason that we recite tzidduk ha-din on Saturday, at the minhah service (“tzidkatkha tzedek”).  This is also mentioned in the Zohar (Parashat Terumah 548):   “Moses passed from this world at the hour of Sabbath minhah prayers, which is a time of grace.”

The Zohar ties the three verses of Tzidkatkha tzedek to three figures that died on Saturday afternoon:   Joseph, Moses, and King David.   The Zohar stresses that when Moses died the gates of the Torah were sealed, the radiance of the Torah was concealed and the mid-day sun turned to darkness.

An opposing view, held by many of the rishonim (early halakhic authorities), is that Moses passed away on Friday afternoon, not on the Sabbath.  For example, the Tosafot on Tractate Menahot (30a) say:

Rabbi Sar Shalom Gaon interpreted the custom of reciting tzidduk ha-din at the minhah service on the Sabbath as related to Moses having died at that hour, but this is hard to accept.  For it is written, “This day I am one hundred and twenty years old,” (Deut. 31:2) and this is interpreted as meaning that his allotment of days was filled that day.  If he passed away on the Sabbath, then he must have written “this day” on the eve of the Sabbath, and it is surprising that he should have written “today” about tomorrow.   Moreover, another difficulty is that according to Seder Olam the seventh of Adar on which Moses died was the eve of the Sabbath. . .

Rabbenu Mordechai bar Hillel Ashkenazi added to what was written in the Tosafot, in Sefer Mordekhai on Tractate Pesahim (37),:

Moreover, as it is said Sifre, on the day that Moses died he wrote thirteen scrolls of the Law, one for each of the tribes and one that was placed in the Ark; if it had been the Sabbath, how could he have written them?

This view is more in line with our standard Jewish calendar, according to which the seventh of Adar never falls on the Sabbath, neither in a regular year, nor in Adar I or Adar II in a leap year.   Of further interest is the fact that the seventh of Adar in a regular year and the seventh of Adar II in a leap year both mark the fourth day of Sukkot (in the following year), and perhaps this is connected with the hassidic custom that the fourth day of Sukkot is the ushpizin day for Moses.

C.  The rishonim were also divided in their views whether in a leap year, Adar I or Adar II should be considered the primary month, and the other month should be viewed as the secondary month that is added on.   This question has several halakhic implications.

Perhaps we can use our subject, the case of the seventh of Adar, to prove that Adar II is the primary month.   For we have shown that Moses was born in the month of Adar in a regular year, and died in Adar II in a leap year and regarding this Rashi comments: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old,” (Deut. 31:2),  “This day my allotment of days and years has been completed” (Tractate Megillah 13b).  In other words, the fulfillment of days to make a complete year is only in Adar II, not Adar I.  In terms of astronomy this is a reasonable approach, since the completion of a year pertains to the solar year (365 and a quarter days), and the additional month (in a Jewish leap year) was designed to bring the months in line with the years.   Also various thinkers considered Adar II the primary month.  Suffice it to mention Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin (Likkutei Ma’amarim, p. 194):   “The excellence [of Adar] lies in being closely connected to Nisan, hence the second one is the more excellent.”   Further on he says, “The one that comes first is like the peel that comes before the fruit.”

The Jewish calendar also indicates that the original month of Adar is the second one:  The month of Adar must have twenty-nine days, and in a leap year Adar I has thirty days but Adar II has twenty-nine.

D.  In Halakhot Gedolot it says that one must fast on the days that mark hardships that happened to our ancestors.   Among the fast days mentioned is the seventh of Adar, listed as the day on which Moses died.  From the Tur on, this custom is cited by almost all posekim as a halakhah (for example, see Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 580), and is called Taanit Tzadikim, the fast of the righteous.  What happens on a leap year?  Most of the later halakhic authorities were inclined to rule that one should fast in Adar I, not Adar II (cf., for example, Mishnah Berurah 100.15).  It seems the original source for this view appears in Maharil (par. 31):

If someone’s mother or father passed away in Adar and it is now a leap year, Mahari Segal responded that it is customary to observe the day in Adar I.   This is attested by the death of Moses, for whom it is customary to mourn in Adar I, although his death was in the month directly preceding Nisan, as proven at the end of the first chapter in Qiddushin.

Today, outside of Israel it is customary to fast in Adar I, and in the land of Israel on the seventh of Adar II (see the calendar, Davar be-Itto, where all the customs are cited).   If Adar II is the principle month, and Moses died in Adar II, why is it customary to fast in Adar I in communities outside of Israel?

This question can be answered by the general rule that one does not pass up an opportunity to perform a mitzvah (Mishnah Berurah 568.41), and we fast on account of the three hundred rules of halakhah that passed into oblivion when Moses died.   But of this principle applies, then why is this fast observed in the land of Israel in Adar II?   I have not come across any reference to this question, but can suggest the following explanation:  one of the reasons for this fast is that Moses did not live to enter the land of Israel.  Ever since his birth, there were great hopes for redemption that were not fully realized.   Therefore, precisely in the land of Israel it is customary to postpone this fast as long as possible, observing it in the month of Adar which comes immediately before the month of redemption (Nisan), out of hope for complete redemption.


[1]  The computation is done by dividing this number by 19, which leaves a remainder of 13.

[2]  This number is divisible by 19 with no remainder.