The Gemara in Taanis (29a) says that when Adar arrives we must increase our joy. Well, Adar is here! So even before we reach Purim we should rejoice; after all, the Gemara is teaching that the whole month is a happy time. In a similar vein, it is worthwhile to note that every month has unique qualities which apply throughout all thirty days. It would be a mistake to think that only the holidays carry the special qualities of their time of year. While the holidays indeed give us hints to the unique Avodah of the month, one must apply the holiday’s message beyond the days the Yom Tov is observed.
On that note, let’s begin our analysis of Adar. What is the area in which we must grow during these days? In order to answer this question, we’ll need to take an extended journey to the mitzvos of Purim. An understanding of the commandments of the prime day of the month will enable us to understand the month in its entirety. And so we go.
Mordechai and the Sages enacted four distinct mitzvos in celebration of the great salvation Hashem wrought for us in their days. Firstly, we must read the Scroll of Esther. This is a logical way to recall the story and give thanks to Hashem for saving us from Haman’s terrible decree. We also were given a mitzvah to eat a festive holiday meal – to rejoice and celebrate our survival. So far so good. However, the next two mitzvos are a bit more enigmatic. The third and fourth mitzvah the Sages enacted require us to give out Mishloach Manos – gifts of food to our friends, and Matanos L’evyonim – monetary gifts to those in difficult financial straits. Why do you suppose the Sages wanted us to fulfill these two injunctions on Purim? What do they have to do with Mordechai, Haman, and all that Hashem did for us?
Let’s take a look at how the Malbim addresses this question. The Malbim writes in his commentary to the Megilla (9, 22) as follows. “Why were we commanded to rejoice with eating the seuda and also with giving gifts? This is because the verse informs us that the month was transformed in two ways – from ‘groaning to rejoicing’ and from ‘mourning to a holiday.’ The rejoicing with eating was commanded as a parallel to the groaning-turned-rejoicing, and the gift-giving is a parallel to the mourning-turned-holiday.” It seems that the Malbim is explaining that the mitzvos of Mishloach Manos and Matanos L’evyonim were enacted because the Sages were trying to create a holiday, and gift-giving is (apparently) the best way to make an otherwise regular day into a holiday. This is hard to understand. In what way does gift-giving make a regular day into a Yom Tov?
The Malbim goes on to explain how this works. “The whole purpose of any holiday is for one to separate from the vanities of the world and [cling] to Hashem and His Torah. Mordechai and the Sages wanted to make a new holiday, but they couldn’t – because only the Torah has the power to create a holiday. That is why they enacted these mitzvos of gift-giving – because that too is a mitzvah.” It seems that the Malbim is saying that the Sages wanted to make a holiday but they didn’t have the right to do so. Therefore, they decided to enact new mitzvos that would engender the same results (i.e. closeness to Hashem) as a real, Biblical Yom Tov.
However, this Malbim needs explanation. First of all, why were these two gift-giving mitzvos chosen to help bring us closer to Hashem on the Rabbinic holiday? Don’t all the mitzvos bring a person closer to Hashem? Why did the Sages choose this type of mitzvah to turn Purim into a spiritual day? Secondly, if gift-giving is indeed the best way to turn a mundane day into a Yom Tov, why did the Sages only enact Mishloach Manos and Matanos L’evyonim on Purim but not on Chanukah as well?
It seems obvious that these mitzvos were chosen for this day specifically because they are related to the overall theme of Purim. Let’s take a detour to explain how this is true. We are all undoubtedly familiar with the Megilla’s protagonists – Mordechai and Haman. However, in a broader sense, the Purim saga was not so much about these two men as it was about their nations and philosophies. Mordechai is the representative of the Jewish People, while Haman is the archetype Amalekite. What are these two nations all about? The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8, 5) and Rashi (Ki Seitzi, 25, 18) identify the Amalekite worldview with one simple word – mikreh – coincidence. The Amalekites profess that all that occurs is merely a happenstance and coincidence. The Jewish People, on the other hand, know that everything that occurs is the result of Hashem’s guiding Hand.
If you’ll join me, I’d like to paint a picture of how one would (and should) live if he subscribes to the Amalekite worldview. He should constantly be concerned with himself. He should hoard all that he can get his hands on and stash it away in many safe places, because one never knows when a natural disaster may occur and cause him to lose his assets. A responsible adherent to this philosophy cannot afford to share what he has with other because he may need it himself one day. Additionally, one could make the socio-ethical argument that it is downright wrong to share because it encourages dependency. The rule of the Survival of the Fittest should dictate that only the toughest make it in life.
A Jew, on the other hand, can share all that he has with others because he knows that it will not negatively impact his own financial standing. A Jew knows that Hashem is taking care of him, and there is no urgent need to prepare for every and any eventuality. All a Jew needs to do is prepare for his basic needs and then he can go and share all that he has with others.
Now perhaps we can explain the Malbim’s idea that gift-giving can turn Purim into a holy day. When a person loosens his pockets and gives to others with abandon, he is taking the steps to separate from the vain worries of the world and the need to worry about what may occur in the future. By giving from what he has, he learns to cling to Hashem in faith and trust. Mishloach Manos and Matanos L’evyonim help a person imbibe the idea that money need not be hoarded, because Hashem can provide for us. In other words, gift-giving is the best way to turn Purim (as opposed to Chanukah) into a holiday, because gift-giving trains one to be a Jew and not an Amalekite.
This is an area in which we can grow in Adar. Let’s use the whole month to focus on thinking and acting like a Jew. Let’s realize that everything we get is from Hashem – because there is no happenstance, only Divine Providence. Let’s be more giving because we know that we can; Hashem can replenish whatever we disburse. Hatzlacha; have an accomplishing Adar.