JOY & JOY
Rabbi David Walk
This week we entered a new Hebrew month of Adar. In the Jewish calendar when we have a leap year, we leap a lot higher (further?) than the Gregorian calendar. We don't just have February 29, we have two months of Adar, and that's true of 5774. So, when we have two Adars, which is the real one? Will the real Adar, please, stand up. Even though the Talmud in tractate Megilla declares that there is no essential difference between the first and second Adar, we know the truth. It's the second Adar. We celebrate Purim in the second Adar and we have the four special Torah readings based on the second Adar. Basically Adar II is the default Adar, and Adar I is the add-on. So it's totally appropriate to use this week's article to analyze the famous Talmudic statement: When one enters Adar, one increases joy (Ta'anit 29b).
This famous dictum presents us with a bit of a problem, and it isn't how can I possibly get happier. Why do we increase our joy specifically in the month containing Purim? It would make sense if Purim were called the most joyous day of the year. Then I could understand building up joy until we reach this most joyous day. Unfortunately, this isn't true. Again the Gemara in Ta'anit explains that the two most joyous days of the Jewish calendar are Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av. Another time we'll discuss why this is true. But Purim is out of the mix. Also, there are days when joy (simcha) is obligatory, namely the Biblical pilgrimage holidays (chagim). And amongst them Sukkot is the one designated as the 'Time of our Joy'(zman simchateinu). Purim has four mandated mitzvoth (hearing the Megilla, having a meal, giving food gifts to friends, and giving money to the poor). Although we are very happy on Purim, joy, per se, is not obligatory. So, we must understand this build up of joy as the month progresses.
There is an opinion that this growth of joy continues until Pesach. In other words this joy is more connected to Pesach than to Purim. I think the supermarkets in
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the Rav of Beil El and Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerusahlayim, wrote about this issue and made a fascinating and important observation. He recognizes the fact that there are multiple kinds of joy. I hope that he'll forgive me for adding that the simcha of chagim, I believe, is the joy of feeling attached to God. It is the joy from the verse: The hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice (I Chronicles 16:10). Rav Aviner clearly identifies the joy we're discussing. It is the simcha which Rebbe Nachman talks about when he says that it's a great mitzvah to be joyous at all times. You see the joy of attachment (dveykut) is not necessarily constant. For most of us it is only achieved on special occasions, like the chagim. The constant joy and the joy which increases in Adar is the joy of being Jewish.
Rebbe Nachman explains that joy is the healthful default position of the human being. Sadness and depression are dangerous to our well being if not confined to specific times or events. But where do we find the happiness? Rav Aviner insists that each one of us is meant to be happy over the fact that we are part of the Jewish people. Why? Because, he explains, that joy comes from things being in their proper and correct position. When we straighten things out we achieve happiness (from the verse: joy on those whose hearts are straight [Psalms 97:11]). We believe that the system of mitzvoth keep us in the rhythm of both heaven and earth, physical and metaphysical. Even when we don't observe the mitzvoth we are confident that the mitzvah structure exists when we access it to keep us in synch with creation.
Why is this the time for increasing the level of our constant joy? Because it was in these days that we anticipated the salvation from the plot of Haman. Haman was one of the few villains in history with the potential for truly destroying all of Judaism. Apparently every Jew lived in the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the
The joy therefore is connected to a cosmic nahafochu, reversal of fortunes. The apparent downward spiral of Jewish destiny had changed direction and began a climb to the light, toward honor and respectability. The daily march towards new found confidence bred increasing joy. We should be able to identify with that experience. No age of Jewish history has experienced a reversal of fortunes as great as ours. No nadir in our long march through time has been as low as the Holocaust, and few pinnacles have been as high as the Declaration of the State. This reversed a tendency which had been developing for almost two thousand years. And this trend, thank God, continues as
The heirs of Haman continue to plague us, but the successors of Esther and Mordechai abound. Throughout the ages we have always felt the increasing joy as Purim approaches, but today, in the sixty-fifth year of the State, we should powerfully identify with the emotions which produced this affect. So, enjoy the rising wave of joy as it builds towards crescendo on Purim. Chodesh Tov V'Sameach!