HOORAY FOR ADAR!!!
Rabbi David Walk
So, I'm bracing for my first Adar back in Israel after a 16-year hiatus in the Diaspora. Adar/Purim are very different here in the Holy Land than overseas. Even in the really Jewish enclaves outside Israel, it's not the same. Out there, people may get drunk, have lavish parties, send nifty packages to friends, etc., but here Purim lasts 15 days. From Rosh Chodesh on, there are parties, dress ups, and fairs all the time. The schools do it, youth groups do it, and families, too. There are kids who wear a different costume daily from Rosh Chodesh to Purim; one of my daughters even dressed up our dog a few days. It's truly remarkable. The energy levels are amazing. But why? What switch was flipped on Rosh Chodesh which precipitated this frenzy? Let's explore a few options.
The most obvious place to start in the statement towards the end of Tractate Ta'anit: Just as the Mishneh demands that when we enter the month of Av we should diminish all manifestations of joy, so as we enter Adar, we should increase our joy. There is no tradition about Adar; it is a logical corollary to the ancient custom concerning Av. We understand that our Sages demanded that we mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves for Tisha B'Av by beginning the process of mourning at the outset of the month. What motivated them, though, to reason that the month of joy should be Adar? Why not Nissan with Pesach, or Sivan with Shavuot?
Rashi actually suggests that Pesach is the true object of all the joy, and the redemption of Purim is just a precursor to the greater redemption from Egypt. This opinion would leave us all exhausted, and many of those who clean and prepare for Pesach might feel left out of the celebration after Purim.
Rav Yehuda Amital OB"M of Yeshivat Har Etziyon taught that the greatest sin of Amalek is contained in the word karcha this word appears in the section read on parshat Zachor (Deutronomy 25:18) and means 'who happened upon you'. The whole point of Amalek's attack on Judaism, including Haman's, is that the universe has no plan. There is no plan, no rhyme nor reason. Our great joy comes from the understanding that the continued existence of the Jewish people proves to us that this is part of God's great strategy for the cosmos. Through the Purim events we understand that even natural occurrences are guided by God's invisible hand. We can see God in a beautiful sunset, as well as at the splitting of the Sea. This position, of course, connects the destruction of Amalek to the joy of Adar.
Another approach which makes a lot of sense to me because it juxtaposes the experience of Av with that of Adar, and remember the joy of Adar was derived logically from the sorrow of Av. The idea here is that the terrible devastations visited upon the Jews on Tisha B'av (both Temples destroyed, the fall of Beitar, signaling the utter failure of the Bat Kochba revolt, etc.) resulted from the Jews' abandoning the Torah and its principles. However, at Purim the Jews voluntarily and joyously reaccepted the Torah. According to the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat (88a) the Jews were compelled to accept the Torah at Mt Sinai, and only accepted it willingly at the end of the Megillah. It says kimu v'kiblu (they fulfilled and they accepted, Esther 9:27) which the Sages expanded to mean that they were willing to fulfill that which they had already accepted. Therefore, it makes sense that the joy of Purim is connected to our love of Torah, just as the sadness of Av resulted from our neglect of the Torah.
But this year the opinion which appeals to me the most is one which I had never seen before. It comes from the wonderful Yeshivat Har Etziyon web site and was written by Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig. But I must give a bit of an introduction before I quote from Rav Blumenzweig. In the musaf service for Rosh Chodesh, there is a paragraph which lists blessings for the new month. In non-leap years, there are twelve good wishes for the new month, and the custom has developed that the congregation responds 'Amen!' after each two of them, during the repetition of the musaf. The thirteenth for a leap year is a topic for another time, perhaps a leap year. The understanding of most is that these twelve blessings correspond to the twelve months. The first in the list is tovah ('goodness') which relates to the first month of the Hebrew year which is Nissan. The last in the list is slichat avon (forgiveness of iniquity) and that lines up with the last month of the year, namely our month of Adar. So that the greatest blessing which emerges from the month of Adar is forgiveness, at the turning of the year we beg for forgiveness and God grants it. Now we're ready for Rav Blumenzweig.
Rav Blumenzweig wrote: This is the simcha that fills the heart in the month of Adar...It becomes clear that we are in the midst of a process of revealing the good and eliminating the bad, and this awakens in us a strong desire to integrate ourselves into a world which is all good...This form of repentance is the imperative of Adar. Unlike repentance out of fear, repentance out of love does not conquer man's actions, feelings and views in a slow and calm process. Rather, the love is in the nature of a spiritual revolution. Yasher Koach!
The joy of Adar is found in its essence as a perfect time for reflection of the year winding down and acceptance of a new commitment to Torah, mitzvot and goodness. This usually melancholy task is infused with joy and love because of the salvation from imminent disaster. Combining the celebration of redemption with the commitment to improve is a marvelous catalyst for joy. May it be a Chodesh of sublime joy.