ADAR: CELEBRATING PURIM, EXPERIENCING JOY By Student Rabbi Rebecca Reice
The Hebrew month of Adar started last Friday (February 23). Adar is a unique month on the Hebrew calendar. In fact, when the Jewish calendar has a leap year, the entire month is repeated. We have a leap year on the Gregorian calendar this year, adding February 29. In a Jewish leap year, there is Adar I and Adar II. Not 12 months, but 13! Of all of the Hebrew months, why would the ancient rabbis, who established our calendar, choose to double Adar?
The last words on page 29a of tractate Ta’anit in the Babylonian Talmud states: משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה (Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha) or “when [the month of] Adar enters (meaning: begins) joy increases.” This statement establishes the entire month of Adar, the month of Purim, as the high point of rejoicing on the Jewish calendar. I think this statement is the answer to the question of doubling. If we are going to have an extra month, shouldn’t it be a month of joy?!
But, what does it mean for joy to increase at the beginning of a month? I think it means that the winter months are starting to give way to spring (at least in the land of Israel). I think it means that it is starting to get lighter, with every passing day growing gradually longer. I think it means we celebrate a festival of joy and silliness, called Purim (literally meaning “lots,” as in the phrase “drawing lots”).
Most of all, I think the joy from the month emanates from the Festival of Purim and the story of Purim. It is the upside down victory of the Book of Esther, the scroll read at Purim, which specifically maximizes the joy for me. In the narrative of the Book of Esther, the Jews of the ancient Persian Empire are brought near to destruction by the king’s wicked adviser Haman. In the end, after much intrigue, the Jewish people see Haman and his sons destroyed and they are saved from his plot. I believe it is this brush with destruction, and experience of salvation, that enhances the sweetness of our celebration.
This Friday night, we will engage in a few of the classic traditions of the Festival of Purim. For example, people will come to services in costume. In the Book of Esther, Esther hides her Jewish identity and reveals it at a key moment in the Book. We disguise ourselves, masquerading as characters from the Book of Esther, from popular culture, and from our own imaginations. On Friday night, we will tell the story of the Book of Esther, including a Beatles-themed retelling or spiel. Our Erev Shabbat/Friday night worship will reflect the upside down nature of the holiday of Purim and add to the silliness and celebration. Listen for the page numbers, so you don’t get lost!
All in all, the most important part of Adar is that you join in the celebration. Eat a delicious meal. Give presents, especially tasty foods, to your friends. Donate to charity, to spread the joy to people who are struggling. Dress in costume. Laugh, a lot. Let go of the decorum of other holidays and embrace the silly fun!