As the Jewish months are determined according to the moon, a 12-month cycle is completed every 354 days – versus 365 days of the solar year. Being that the four seasons make up 365 days, we add a second month of Adar to ensure our observance of Pesach (Chag Ha’Aviv) in the spring. A leap year occurs seven times every nineteen years, or about every three years.
On this Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim, we bentch Shabbos Mevorchim Adar Rishon, Rosh Chodesh falling on Friday and Shabbos (January 31 and February 1). Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha – with the beginning of Adar rejoicing is increased… by virtue of an extra Adar, our jubilation is extended this year.
Regarding this month’s birthdays, celebrations, etc., Adar’s child can technically celebrate his or her birthday twice in a leap year. Boys born in Adar, whose thirteenth year is a leap year, celebrate their bar mitzvah in the first Adar, with the exception of those who were born in Adar Sheini – who would then be bar mitzvah in Adar Sheini.
A yahrtzeit is observed in both months – unless the petirah occurred in a leap year. In that case the yahrtzeit is observed on the actual day of petirah.
While Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheini, its date in Adar Aleph (the extra Adar) is called Purim Katan, on which day some prayers are altered and a more festive meal is generally served.
It was in a leap year that the evil Haman, adept at witchcraft, cast his lot. Miraculously it landed on Adar Sheini, which rendered his wizardry ineffective during a month that has no astrological sign affiliation. Haman moreover erred in his belief that Adar did not bode well for the Jews because of Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing during this month. He failed to realize that Moshe’s birth in Adar actually contributes to the mazel of this month – considered a most favorable time of year for the Jewish people.
Other notables whose yahrtzeits are observed in Adar: R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra and Shabsai HaKohen, the Shach (1 Adar); R’ Avrohom Blumenkrantz (3 Adar); R’ Chaim Yosef M’Stropkov (4 Adar II) and R’ Leib Sarah’s (4 Adar I); R’ Yitzchok Isaac Taub, Kaliver Rebbe (7 Adar II); R’ Yehuda HaChassid and R’ Moshe Feinstein (12 Adar); R’ Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld (19 Adar II); R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk and R’ Itzele Ponevezher (21 Adar); R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky (29 Adar I); and Sarah Schenirer (26 Adar I).
The concept of a Jewish school for girls was non-existent in Sarah Schenirer’s childhood, and the secular culture in Poland beckoned to the vulnerable, young religious girls, threatening to alienate them from their Orthodox environment.
At thirteen Sarah became a seamstress in order to help her impoverished parents. Quiet and reserved by nature, she kept a diary to record her innermost thoughts and feelings.
When one of her clients fussed over the measurements of her dress, Sarah famously wrote: People are such perfectionists when it comes to clothing their bodies. Are they so particular when they address themselves to the needs of their soul?
While her friends would immerse themselves in Polish literature, Sarah became a voracious reader of her father’s sefarim and devoured everything with a Yiddish translation. Her father would therefore bring home more and more reading material for his daughter to satisfy her thirst for spiritual matters.
When World War I broke out, Sarah and her family left for Vienna. On Shabbos she visited a Viennese synagogue and was enraptured by the rabbi’s sermons. Her thoughts drifted to her friends back in Cracow who were so enticed by gentile enchantments and she determined to speak to them in a way that would open up their minds and hearts to “the preciousness of being a daughter of Israel.”
Upon her return to Cracow, Sara arranged a Shabbos gathering of girls whom she talked to about Pirkei Avos. It wasn’t long before her skeptical audience began to laugh and ridicule her. Sarah quickly recovered and altered her strategy; she’d need to start with younger girls whose souls were untainted and pure. In the meantime she wrote to her brother in Czechoslovakia, a Belzer chassid, who urged her to entreat the Belzer Rebbe for a bracha. The Rebbe’s blessing consisted of two words: “Bracha v’Hatzlacha”– all the impetus Sarah required to forge on and make her dream a reality.
She began with twenty-five children, in whom she infused a love of Yiddishkeit. When they evolved into model Bnos Yisrael, more and more parents began to believe in Sarah and to entrust their daughters to her. Soon she had forty girls, then seventy-five, and before long one hundred.
Her big breakthrough came when Agudath Israel undertook to be the mentor and guide of the Bais Yaakov movement. Within two years of when she first began her small group, other cities in Poland begged her to open a school in their vicinity to “save our girls.” The Rosh Yeshiva in Lublin, Rav Meir Shapiro, visited her school and convinced her to organize a seminary, eventually inaugurated with 120 girls.
When Sara Schenirer encountered resistance from Orthodox leaders who did not support the idea of a “yeshiva” or Torah school for girls, the Agudah wrote to the Chofetz Chaim, who was highly instrumental in helping her realize her lofty ambition.
The impact Sara Schenirer had on a generation of girls was discernible even in the darkness of the Holocaust. Holocaust survivor, author and historian Yosef Friedenson, a”h relates how Bais Yaakov girls stood in stark contrast to other inmates: “I saw how they starved and carried food to Jews who were ill and to lonely talmidei chachamim…They were the only ones who remembered when it was Shabbos and Yom Tov, when others forgot the sequence of days. Several candles were somehow lit every Friday evening in Auschwitz. Young women placed kerchiefs upon their heads and whispered a tefillah. Some no longer had for whom to pray. They no longer had their husbands or parents, and they wept in prayer for their tortured people.”
Sarah Schenirer passed away at the age of fifty-two. Though she was not blessed with children of her own, there were at the time about 35,000 girls attending close to 300 Bais Yaakov schools in Poland alone. Girls once again became proud of their heritage and Jewishness, and tznius had once again become the hallmark of the Jewish daughter. (Sarah had recurrently stressed the theme of personal modesty in behavior and dress.)
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the month of Adar was formed by means of the letter kuf, symbolizing kedusha – which springs forth from righteousness (the tzaddik of the previous month of Shevat).
Please note: The Tzemach Tzedek whose yahrzheit was observed on the second day of Shevat was Rav Menachem Mendel Krochmahl of Nikolsburg, a talmid muvhak of the Bach.
About the Author: Rachel Weiss is the author of the newly released book “Forever In Awe” by Feldheim Publishers, available at sefarim outlets and at Feldheim.com.
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