Image: A woman lifts her hands and grimaces in surprise. By Engin Akyurt / Pixabay
It’s March 1, and Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet. If the latter term is unfamiliar, read Why Two Months of Adar?
In leap years, when we have an Adar Aleph, I tend to zone out for that month. There are no holidays, and not much happening. I reassure myself that it is a l-o-n-g way to Passover. Then come, Rosh Chodesh, I panic: what have I done about Purim preparations? Do I know where my grogger is? Have I decided to whom to send mishloach manot? When will I start the dreaded Passover preparation?
March is my birthday month, as is Adar. Now it is also the anniversary of the original Covid lockdown here in California. That means that those feelings get mixed in with everything else on Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet.
מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה
“When Adar enters, joy increases” – BT Ta’anit 29a
It seems cruel to dangle that tradition before our eyes, when Adar contains anniversaries of death and destruction. However, as with many things in the Talmud, context helps:
מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה וְכוּ׳. אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר שִׁילַת מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה — כָּךְ מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה.
§ The mishnah teaches that from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing. Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.
First, Adar’s rejoicing comes up as a contrast in a much longer discussion of the month of Av, the traditional month for sadness and sad anniversaries. When Av begins, we curtail our acts of rejoicing because we are preparing ourselves to remember the destruction of the Temple and other disasters. In contrast, when Adar begins, we prepare ourselves to celebrate Purim.
In both cases, we are the actors. It is not, as some translations suggest, that joy gets sucked out of the world in Av, or that joy is pumped into the world in Adar. We have the power to choose how we will react to events.
Mitzvot — commandments — are given to sanctify us, to make us holy. We fulfill mitzvot in order to transform ourselves slowly over time. I cannot choose events, but I can choose how I respond to events. I cannot choose emotions, but I can choose how I will express those emotions.
This Adar Aleph, Russia invaded Ukraine. In Adar 5780, coronavirus shut down the world, and it has been sickening and killing people ever since. In other Adars, other terrible things happened. Still the Jewish People chose to do acts of rejoicing: we’ve had Purim over Zoom twice. This year I will send some of my mishloach manot budget to HIAS and the WUPJ, to feed and comfort those in the war zone.
I do not kid myself that my little donations will make for a happy Purim in Kyiv. I am not so grandiose as to think that it will make a big difference. The little difference I make in the situation will be multiplied by all the other people sending money to help. The big difference will be in me: I will not succumb to despair. I will teach myself, again, that what matters is how I react. What matters is that I will bring a tiny bit of joy into this world by an act of will.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who blesses us with mitzvot, to transform our hearts.