It is the fifth day of Adar Aleph, the Hebrew month known for increased joy and celebration. And this year it is a Hebrew leap year, a year of further increase, and an extension to include an additional month of joy.
Two months of joy? Is that really conceivable?
Reality is elsewhere, far from joy, far from celebration. Reality is contrary. Reality is the brutal murder of a beautiful young 19-year-old at the hands of a terrorist. The light and joy inspired by Ori Ansbacher from Tekoa was physically buried on Friday, at the start of Adar.
Reality knocked again this morning. A devastating bus and car accident that crushed the lives of two women and injured over forty passengers on their way from Kiryat Sefer to Jerusalem.
History has some of the most tragic events and deaths listed for the month of Adar, events that reach as far back as the great scholarly houses of Hillel and Shammai, two rabbinic houses after the destruction of the First Temple, houses of Torah study that could not agree on anything. A dispute between the two houses over eighteen interpretations of Jewish law erupted in a riot that saw the deaths of students of both Hillel and Shammai, and according to the Shulchan Aruch a fast for repentance was called for the 9th of Adar.
Shakespeare’s famous words regarding Julius Caesar were: “Beware the Ides of March.” Was he thinking Adar?
I lit a yahrtzeit candle last night. It is five years since my mother passed away on the fifth day of Adar Aleph. I imagine the village Azidovitz on the Czech Hungarian border where my mother was born nearly 110 years ago. My mother spoke about a stream of water flowing outside their small village homestead where she had a faint memory of villagers fishing. There are a few random pictures from days of yore, a fuzzy black-and-white photo of a great-grandparent, but I don’t really know what life was like for my mother, for her parents, or any European ancestors, except that my mother’s family was relatively comfortable, unlike my father’s family and most villagers who were very poor.
I remove my mother’s Czech certification from the envelope where it is stored in a drawer. I remove her American citizenship papers and passport, followed by her Israel identity card. I wonder which identity was truly the most significant to her: fourteen years in Eastern Europe, forty years in America, or fifty years in Israel? I suppose America was the dominant influence materially and educationally, yet Israel was surely the spiritual focus of her life.
America held the coming-of-age years – marriage, children, a home, a business, and grandchildren. They were forty years filled with hard work that yielded immense satisfaction.
Yet after forty gratifying years in America, after raising a family of American children and grandchildren, my mother convinced my father to leave it all behind and start again, in Israel. She followed her head that signaled the prime importance of, “kibbud Av,” respect and concern and care for her father who had left America for Israel three years earlier. Aliyah to Israel in 1964 meant leaving her heart: her home, her children, her grandchildren, and countless close family members and friends behind. It meant using her brain to learn a new language in addition to the Yiddish, English and Hungarian that she spoke. It meant finding new friends. It meant cooking, baking, shopping, home repairs, and doing it all the Israeli way, somewhat primitively, as Israel was at least fifty years behind America in the early 1960s. Still, she never complained. Israel was her new home, the home of her choice, the ancestral home, the home where she took care of her father and husband, and she was forever bound to her Creator.
After praying at my mother’s grave this afternoon, a short winter shower greeted us as my daughter and I drove out of the cemetery. Due to extreme traffic jams at the entrance to the city, we took a long scenic drive around Jerusalem, circling mountainous side roads lined with budding almond trees. There is nothing comparable to fresh blossoms to foster mood change. Nothing more positive that drives home the image that, like trees, we too have Divine power for renewal; we too can begin again, find forgiveness, be redeemed from the punishment of annihilation, and overcome mourning, so that the month of Adar can suddenly change from sadness to joy.
We celebrate Purim in Adar, commemorating a time when the Jews faced an existential threat, and due to repentance they were redeemed, and survived. Undoubtedly Adar has the power to turn into a month of increased celebration as it did in the days of Mordechai and Esther, whose sacrifices saved the Jewish people.
Halevai that the joy and celebration of Adar becomes the reality in our days.