Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Exodus Chapter 12 pertains to the Pascal lamb sacrifice, providing a plethora of details about it.
When was it sacrificed? What type of animal could be used? How was it eaten? These are a sampling of
some salient aspects of the divine commandment given to the Jewish nation.
“And God said unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying: This
month shall be unto you the beginning of months. It shall be the first
month of the year to you.”
Characteristically, Abravanel analyzes the different aspects of the Pascal lamb with painstaking care. See
Abravanel’s World for the entire discussion. For our purposes here, we select one requirement – the
timing. The Pascal lamb was to be offered in the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the first month of
the Jewish calendar. “And you shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month…”
Indeed, one marvels at the precision of the Jewish calendar, one that mortals could not have devised.
This is because of the intricate mathematical calculations involved in plotting the celestials. For example,
how would astronomers account for the discrepancy between the number of days in a lunar year versus
the solar one?
“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months.” But how many days are in a month? How many
months in a year? How do we insert or intercalate leap years? Part of the genius of the Jewish calendar
is that it adds one month intermittently throughout the nineteen-year solar cycle.
Again, this blog will not go into more technical calendric detail other than to state that there are seven
years (out of a nineteen-year cycle) where the Jewish calendar adds an entire month. When an extra
month is inserted, that year has thirteen months and not twelve.
In concluding, we quote Abravanel’s ancient Greek source who expressed unabashed adulation for the
ancient Hebrews and their mathematical acumen. For him, the Jewish calendar attested to the Chosen
People’s intimate relationship with God.
“It is proof positive that prophecy rested among them.” – Ptolemy, Greek mathematician