Image: A daffodil begins to bloom. Photo by Petra.
“Mishenichnat Adar marbin b’simchah” B.Ta’anit 29a
“When Adar enters, joy increases.”
Rosh Chodesh Adar is the beginning of the month of Adar. Adar is the month of Purim, of good luck, of silly games and pranks.
The quotation above is from Masechet Ta’anit in the Babylonian Talmud.
Ta’anit means “fasts.” This masechet [book] is a compilation of discussions about fast days (with, of course, digressions on those discussions.) Fast days are somber occasions: Yom Kippur [The Day of Atonement] and the Ninth of Av [the memorial of the destruction of the Temple] are the best-known fast days. They are not happy occasions. How did this line about Adar wind up in there?
When we look at the context, the rabbis are in the midst of a sobering discussion about the “curtailment of rejoicings” in the month of Av. There’s a heartbreaking story about the young priests going to the roof of the Temple as it was burning, reaching their arms up to throw the Temple keys into the hands of the angels. Then the young priests, their duty done, fall into the fire. There is a sad quotation from Isaiah about people dying, and God weeping.
Then a new bit of Mishnah is quoted: “WITH THE BEGINNING OF AV REJOICINGS ARE CURTAILED.”
Then the Gamara expounds:
Rab Judah the son of R.Samuel b. Shilath said in the name of Rab:
Just as with the beginning of Ab rejoicings are curtailed, so with the beginning of Adar rejoicings are increased.
R. Papa said: Therefore a Jew who has any litigation with Gentiles should avoid him in Ab because his luck is bad and should make himself available in Adar when his luck is good.
To give you a future and a hope:
Rab Judah the son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in the name of Rab: By this is meant [an abundance of] palm trees and flaxen garments.
And he said: See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed:
Rab Judah the son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in the name of Rab: As the smell of an apple orchard.
… and then the text returns to the grave discussion of the “curtailment of rejoicings” of the month of Av.
Too many of us know tragedy at some point in our lives. But just as this discussion of Adar bursts in upon the discussion of tragedy for a moment, so does the month of Adar burst in upon us at the point where winter appears to be endless. Good surprises burst in upon gray skies: sometimes instead of bad luck, we have good luck. Sometimes a new baby is born, and he smells wonderful. The message: The truly devout remain open to the possibility of joyful moments.
Adar comes with a command to “increase joy.” To do that, we must stay attuned to the possibility of the sacred moment when laughter breaks through tears, sun through clouds, beauty through the gray winter. If we are paying attention, we will be awake for joy. Adar is the month to cultivate that sacred skill in ourselves. For indeed:
Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:
How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God! [Gates of Prayer]
Happy Adar! May our joy increase, and may we be awake to it!
May it give us all “a future and a hope.” Amen.
12 thoughts on “Joy Increases – Welcome to Adar!”
I wish to praise your articles. They, to me, are among the most accessible and heartfelt Jewish writings I have come across on the Web. And as proof, compared to other e-mails, I actually open them… This latest one offers meaning to my own personal grieving and explains joy I may unexpectedly feel in contrast to everything else that might be going on. I guess it’s a strange case of actually feeling guilty for laughing in spite of other events/conditions, ect. Thank You again.
Damon, thank you for your kind words!
Damon, I hope that your heart finds some comfort in that unexpected joy. Life can be very hard – I think that’s why the ancient rabbis taught that enjoying those things permitted to us is also a form of worship. Thank you so much for your kind words –
Rabbi Ruth, what a glorious post….those crocuses at the top are beautiful; a lovely image to keep ‘on file’ in my head, for when I close my eyes and try to think of peaceful, beautiful things. Damon, wishing you peace….I am grieving too, and understand how devastating it feels.
Rabbi Ruth, Thank you for this beautiful post! What a lovely way to start my day. Reading it made me pause and be thankful for being free to live in the desert where Spring is in full bloom and beautiful creatures are nesting preparing to procreate as well.
Damon and 900windows I wish you both peace and my prayers for you both is that soon wherever you are, you too will see the new beginnings that Spring brings to help lighten your grief. May G-d bless you.
I love the desert, especially the Mohave. Which desert do you call home, Sheila?
Rabbi Ruth, The Sonoran Desert is my home. It is a lower desert than the Mojave and the famous plant here is the huge cactus with arms called the Saguaro and blooms late each Spring with huge white flowers at the crown of the cactus. This desert extends from Arizona into Mexico and New Mexico. Glad to hear you love the desert too.
Does Adar always/mostly coincide with Chinese New Year? Or is it a quirk of this year?
I don’t know, but I think it’s a sign we should eat kosher Chinese food. It would increase joy.
Ah, just a coincidence. Or a delightful surprise by the universe.
Looking at the Jewish calendar, I see now why Lent/Easter has a 19 year cycle — it was inherited from the rabbis of old, to synch up the solar and lunar calendars. Maybe God wanted us to learn how to do mathematics?
You’re right, although the connection is between calculations for Passover and those for Easter.
The Chinese calendar is lunar; ours is lunar with adjustments to keep the seasons aligned. While 1 Adar may not always be perfectly aligned with the Chinese New Year, it makes sense that it would never stray too far from it, either.
Chinese/Lunar New Year also uses equinoxes to determine things, so the seasons don’t slip too far. So the dates/holidays probably aren’t more than a month apart. Like Mardi Gras.
(CNY is the second new moon after the winter solstice. Except in years with an extra month. It’s Jan. 21-Feb. 20, in any case.)