If you practice your Judaism only once a year, it’s probably shrewd to binge on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur… after all, it’s a matter of life and death….
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die… [Unetanah Tokef prayer]
It’s pretty clear that once the sun sets on Yom Kippur the gates are closed and all bets are off… after all the service is called Ne’ilah… as in “closing time”.
Everyone knows that Ne’ila is God’s ultimatum…. Except when it’s not…
Tradition holds that contrary to what you figured when you overpaid for those high holiday tickets, the “Gates of Repentance” remain open until Hoshanah Rabbah, which is more than a week latter and a free for all. [See: Hoshanah Rabbah as a Day of Judgment, Prof. Yosef Tavori, Bar Ilan University]
So, now your thinking that Hoshanah Rabbah is God’s Red Line… You have until Hoshanah Rabbah to repent… or else.
Except in a leap year… that is….
In a leap year, such as this year of 5774, when Rosh Hashanah falls before we’ve had a chance to put away our white (not-after-labor-Day) shoes and Hanukah coincides with Thanksgiving, we need to add a whole month (Adar II) to the calendar to get back in sync.
In such a year the Rabbis added two words to the Rosh Hodesh Musaf Prayer of the intervening months. The words “Ulechaprat Pesha” which mean for the “forgivenenss of sin”. There are many reasons suggested for the addition of these words, but they all have one thing in common. The additional 13th month is a fashla…. a screw-up. If we had a decent calender, it wouldn’t be possible to celebrate the Fall Harvest in the middle of the summer or the Spring rites of renewal in the middle of he winter. By adding a month we apply a temporary fix, but who knows if we’re doing it right, who knows whether we’re eating pita when we should be eating matzah? Is it our fault or is it God’s? Who knows and who cares… we’re in this mess together. Maybe that’s why we get and give a little more sympathy and understanding during a leap year and add “Ulechaprat Pesha” until the Leap Month of Adar Sheni. According to Rabbi Robert Tobin (in a private conversation) the addition of “Ulechaprat Pesha” signifies that the gates of judgment are open for an additional six months.
In the meantime, if you have an opportunity to visit a traditional synagogue on Hoshana Rabbah morning you will experience a unique (* religio-magical pagan originating and surviving in Christianity) ritual and service where willows are rustled, smacked against the ground and Yom Kippur-like prayers are chanted, weekday cloths are worn, food is served and seats are free….
* See: Some Significant Antecedents of Christianity. By Julian Morgenstern