Classic riddle: how many months have 29 days? Of course, every month has 29 days, or more, but 29 February is the date that stands out.
The choice of date is arbitrary – apparently in Britain, the extra date is technically the 24th, according to the Julian and Gregorian calendars – yet 29 February seems to have some significance in our heart.
After the doldrums of a stormy, wet and worrisome winter, the very name ‘leap year’ indicates that we are leaping forwards; stepping out of the dark dreariness, bounding towards the signs of spring, a calendrical reminder to be a bit more positive.
This idea of leaping forward, strikingly, is reflected in Jewish thought as well. I heard from Rabbi Moshe Shapiro (Jerusalem, d. 2017), one of the most profound and influential Jewish thinkers of recent years, that the Hebrew for nine, tesha, is related to the Hebrew word she’a, to turn, and specifically, to turn upwards.
In Jewish thought, the number eight represents the miracles of this world: the eight days of Chanukah being a classic example.
Meanwhile, ten is the number of holiness: hence ten is the number for a minyan, turning a group of individuals into a congregation, empowered to invoke God in matters of holiness, such as in the Kaddish prayers, the formal repetition of the Amidah or public recitation of the Torah.
Nine is the number that bridges this gap: it is the upturn from a miraculous eight days to the other-worldliness of the ten.
The secular calendar returns to its normal pattern from1 March and the extra day will soon be forgotten.
However, there is no such thing as being static in religious life: if we have a leap forward, we have to try to build upon it.
When winter comes again we will, we hope, be in a better position to weather the storms and leap forward again in the future.
Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning