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There is an anomaly regarding a leap year. On the one hand we noted that if the person died during Adar of a “shana peshuta,” a non-leap year, the main yahrzeit commemoration is on the specific day during the first Adar (Adar I), with a lesser observance on the same day during the second Adar (Adar II).
However, regarding our celebration of Purim, the 14th day during the first Adar is observed as Purim Katan, with a minimal observance, yet the real celebration is held on the 14th day of the second Adar.
Regarding the need for the yarhrzeit to be observed during the first Adar, this can be explained based on the time the avelut commences. As we discussed previously, the full mourning period is 12 months – even though Kaddish is only recited for one’s parents for 11 months, as we do not wish to designate parents as being wicked. [See Rema, Orach Chayyim 376:4, who notes that the judgment of the wicked lasts 12 months.]
The 12 months obviously start at the time of death. There is a major dispute among the authorities as to when the 12-month period starts in the event that death and burial were not on the same day.
The Shach (Yoreh De’ah 402:12, citing the Responsa of R. Binyamin) rules that if the burial is not on the same day as the death or on the following day, but takes place on the third day from death, then the yahrzeit in the first year follows the date of burial, as there must be a complete 12 months of mourning, and in this case three days would otherwise be missing from that mourning period.
The Taz (ad loc.; and Orach Chayyim 568:8) disagrees, saying: “If one first heard of the death of his father six months after his death, there is no one who would rule that he now mourns for 12 months from the time he heard about it, but rather the 12 months are counted from the time of the date of death.”
In practice we seem to follow the ruling of the Shach, but only if three complete days have passed (see Yesodei Semachot, the excellent sefer by R. Aron Felder, shlita, Philadelphia).
Accordingly, the yahrzeit would be observed during the first Adar of a leap year, as one certainly would not observe 13 months of mourning. Regarding every successive year, the yahrzeit is observed on the date of death. This is inferred from the Gemara (Shevuot 20a) and Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “Keyom she’met bo aviv”), where we see that the date of death is imbued with a precision clear enough to effect a proper oath.
Thus, regarding fasting and saying Kaddish, this is observed during the first Adar; but since there is a second Adar, we treat that same day in the second Adar as a lesser observance, where one recites Kaddish only, but does not fast [although there is a view in Piskei Mahari, cited by Rema, to fast on both days].
Regarding Purim being celebrated during the second Adar, we find the following in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 685:1): “If the Rosh Chodesh of Adar that is closest to Nissan [i.e. Adar II] falls on Shabbat, we read Parashat Shekalim [the first of the four special Torah readings – Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Parashat Hachodesh].”
The Mishna Berura (ad loc., citing Rashi on Megilla 29a s.v. “Korin beparashat Shekalim] explains that this is done so that in the time of the existence of the Temple they would bring their shekalim in the month closest to Rosh Chodesh Nissan in order to be able to bring offerings from Rosh Chodesh and on from the new shekalim donations.
We find as well the dispute between R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi and R. Shimon b. Gamaliel (Megilla 6b) as to whether we read the Megilla and give matanot la’evyonim during the first Adar or the second. R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi is of the opinion that we observe the mitzvot of Purim during the Adar closest to Shevat, just as in all the other years, as the verse states (Esther 9:27), “Bechol shana veshana – each and every year,” and we have a rule of “Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot – We do not allow a mitzva to be bypassed,” meaning that we perform it as soon as possible.
R. Shimon b. Gamaliel derives from the same verse that just as Purim is in the Adar closest to Nissan in an ordinary year, so is it in a leap year, so that we may connect the redemption of Purim to the redemption from Egypt.
We thus find that according to R. Shimon b. Gamaliel, whose opinion we follow, Purim during a leap year is celebrated during the second Adar. [See the fine work of R. Dov Aaron Brisman, Rav of Philadelphia, in his Responsa Shalmei Chova, Yoreh De’ah, Responsum 94, where he discusses this matter in great detail.]
We are left with one matter to which we do not have a clear answer – the candle we light on the yahrzeit. We do this because of the verse (Mishlei 20:27), “Ner Hashem nishmat adam – The candle of Hashem is the soul of man.” The Magen Avraham, the Taz, and the Ba’er Heitev to Orach Chayyim (Hilchot Shabbat 261) would allow one to ask a gentile at “bein ha’shemashot” (dusk) on a Friday evening to light this candle in the event one forgot, as the yahrzeit candle on the yahrzeit of one’s father or mother is an important requirement, similar to the Shabbat candles.
The above scenario applies to the first Adar. But what if this situation occurs during the second Adar? Is this day only commemorated by reciting Kaddish, or is the lighting of the candle also included? There is no clear answer.
In summation, the general rule is that the first Adar is the yahrzeit for one who dies in Adar of a non-leap year, and on that day all yahrzeit precedence belongs to the person observing the yahrzeit. However, Kaddish is said on that day in the second Adar as well, but there is no precedence over one who has an actual yahrzeit on that day.
Let us hope that this month will be a true zeman geula, a time of redemption, as we connect the redemption of Purim to the redemption of Pesach, and herald a time of true peace and prosperity for our people.