It’s that time of year again. M’shenichnas Adar – “When Adar enters, joy is increased.” Unlike Shakespeare’s chilling warning to “Beware the Ides of March,” Adar is about celebration – about our eternal gratitude that more than 2,000 years ago a Persian royal decree for a “final solution” was flipped over in favor of Jewish life.
Joy and gratitude remain relevant to this day, which we commemorate by celebrating Purim in Adar.
This year, a Jewish leap year, our calendar has two Adars. Does that guarantee two months of rejoicing? What happens when tragedy strikes in the month of Adar? Regrettably, sad days are plentiful. Tragic bus and car accidents, terrorism, murder, and deaths abound. Thanks to a functioning legal system, a sunny day is overshadowed when a former Israeli prime minister and a prominent rabbi enter prison to serve time for bribes and obstruction of justice – not a time to rejoice.
I remember one Purim thirty years ago when tens of thousands of people left holiday celebrations and guests to attend the funeral of the greatest halachic authority of our time, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, who passed away in New York on the Fast of Esther. His casket was flown to Israel for burial on Har HaMenuchot on the 15th of Adar, in the midst of Purim festivities in Jerusalem.
Regardless of the situation, joy is surely the preferred Jewish mode. We are required to serve Hashem in joy. We struggle to turn sadness into pleasure, memorial days into independence days, fast days into holidays.
Early on a recent Shabbat morning I declared, in a semi-whimsical mood, “A cup of coffee can be likened to the month of Adar. The stirring aroma fills my nostrils, awakening a sense of pleasure, like the smell of roasting chicken in the oven on Friday afternoon. It holds an element of delicious anticipation for divine time, joy that is about to spill over…”
“Coffee?” my husband interrupted. “Bitter coffee with boiled water that needs sweetener and cold milk? All those ‘hafuchim,’ those contrasting components, remind you of Adar?”
“Yes, and lots of cookies and chocolates too, they help down this bittersweet drink, along with yesterday’s news that I saved for this morning.” I shuffle the paper for a closer view of news that soon shatters my peace and joy for the day.
My mother’s yahrzeit falls at the beginning of Adar I. It is two years since she was taken from us. Her younger sister passed away one year later, at the end of Adar. I think about my mother; I think about my aunt. Both were blessed with long years. I wonder how many more pages of Tehillim would be drenched with tears if they were still alive. My mother cried for every Jewish soldier killed, for every victim of terrorism. I can still see her face, her hands uplifted, tears flowing from eyes that had lost most of their vision, praying, beseeching Hashem to show His mercy.
If it was Rosh Chodesh, my aunt – always smiling, even when she was unhappy –would enter the apartment to sing Hallel with her sister. They were early birds, first to enter the women’s section of the Bet Knesset on Shabbat and chagim. My mother never missed a fast day until age 103 when we kept awareness of fast days from her. Her last Yom Kippur, before she passed away at 104, I warned her that if she fasted, the senior residence where she and my aunt lived would force her to leave, as the administration wouldn’t take responsibility for her deteriorating health. It was the first Yom Kippur – and her last – that she couldn’t fast.
How does one commemorate loss when joy is the order of the day? Chassidim drink l’chaim to warm the soul. They complete chapters of mishnayot and enjoy a seudat mitzvah. They sing and dance for the neshamah to have an aliyah, turning sorrow into celebration.
My husband is not a chassid. He observes memorial days solemnly – fasting, learning, visiting the cemetery. No barbecues in our back yard, no hard or soft drinks, no music. Lighting a candle and visiting the cemetery do not, however, satisfy my chasssidic roots. Sad days need a turnabout, bitter feelings need sweetening, and chilling thoughts need warmth; I identify with study and joy, with a light meal to nourish the soul.
At times I think all is lost, Israel is on the brink of disaster, and the world is out to destroy us. Yet in a flash, a victim is miraculously saved from a stabbing, from an illness, from a fall, from a crash; one’s basherte may suddenly appear at the corner bus stop; or a childless neighbor may appear at the door in maternity clothes.
As the days of Adar progress, the streets, as they do every year, will fill with children and adults masquerading cheerfully in Purim costumes regardless of what may be happening all around us. We join in, singing and dancing to words of the popular melody “V’nahafoch hu,” and believe that whatever expectations, thoughts, plans, or predictions, Hashem can – and does – turn them upside down.
Even when our loved ones are no longer with us, their images can be retrieved in an unexpected instant – perhaps in the smile of a child or grandchild who resembles his namesake, or a picture, or a book bearing an inscription that is a gem, or a set of Machzorim that belonged to a great-grandparent and reveals treasured memories worthy of joy.
The Prophet Yeshayahu (51:3) promises: “Ki nicham Hashem Zion – For Hashem has comforted Zion; He has comforted all her waste and ruins, and made her wildernesss like Eden, and her desert bloom like the garden of Hashem; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”
Living in Israel, I know it can happen. I’ve seen it happen. And I anticipate days when, “v’nahafoch hu,” the turnabout, as in Adar of yore, will happen once again.