Most of us groaned as daylight savings time was announced: We would lose an hour of sleep! It hardly seems the best way to welcome the beauties of the spring season. One of the problems, in my opinion, is that it is totally secular, unconnected to our feelings for the world. A random choice of a Saturday night, actually the wee hours of Sunday, which used to be in April and now is in March, makes very little sense. It is not organic to our bodies or our communal lives.
But resetting the clock, or more precisely, the calendar, has an ancient biblical precedent. "This will be the beginning of months for you," G-d told Moses in Exodus 12:2, referring to the lunar month that the Bible elsewhere calls Aviv, also meaning spring. When the Bible refers to an ordinal month, such as the third or seventh or tenth month, it is counting from spring.
Passover begins at the full moon of the first month, now named Nisan. (What we know as the Jewish "new year," Rosh Hashanah, is referred to in the Bible as the new moon of the seventh month. )
The calendar is reset in spring because the Jewish year is lunar, shorter than the solar year that determines the seasons. Without a reset, the moon-based holidays would "drift" eleven days backward each year, so that Passover would sometimes be in summer, winter or fall. To prevent that, the Jewish calendar is set up to add a "leap month" periodically, as happened this year. Passover thus remains firmly planted in Spring, though the date changes in accord with the moon's cycle. The new moon of Nisan is normally within two weeks of the spring equinox.
This sets the clock of Jewish life to stay in organic balance with the sun and moon that silently regulate our biological clocks, as well as with collective memory that recorded spring as the season of the birth of the Jewish people. Passover is the celebration, family by family and community by community, of annual rebirth.
Resetting our clocks can be an occasion for hope and joy, a light at the end of the tunnel of inner and outer darkness. Our religious traditions often make it easier for us to find the light in our lives. "Saving daylight" may be helpful in an industrialized society, but when we really need renewal of body, renewal of spirit, we turn to nature and communal celebrations.
May we all, at this season, find the resources we need to help us "spring forward" in our lives.
(Note: In Israel, daylight savings time starts after Passover: It is as if renewing the collective spiritual light takes precedence over the changing relationship to natural light.)