This year Purim won’t be in the month of Adar. Well, it’s not going to be in the first Adar. It’ll be in the second one. Second one? Funny story.
The Jewish leap year works a little different than the Gregorian one. Where once every four years February gets an extra day, in the Jewish calendar seven times within the span of nineteen years we get an extra month. Make sense? Yeah well, that’s Judaism for you. The point is this year we have an extra month and when that happens, we repeat the month of Adar. Believe me, of all the months to be repeated, Adar is an extraordinary choice.
The months of the Jewish calendar each have unique spiritual opportunities or “energies” (if it helps you to think about it that way) that are available during that time. For Shavat, it’s renewal, for Nissan, it’s freedom, and for Av, it is a time to diminish happiness as we remember the losses of the Temple and other tragedies. Really glad Av wasn’t made the leap month.
A Time for Joy
Adar is the polar opposite of Av, as we are supposed to increase our joy. So it is spectacular that’s the energy we get to live with for two straight months. But what exactly is joy and how do we best tap into it?
In Rabbi Denbo’s book 7 Traits: How to Change the World, he spends a whole chapter on how essential joy is to our lives. “Joy gives us the energy to tackle the great responsibilities and tests that come our way. Without joy, we have no motivation. Without joy, we are stagnant.” Great! So no more self flagellation. Got it! But how do we foster our joy?
The chapter goes on to point out two essential aspects. The first, the expectation of new possibilities. When we get a job, pass a test, even check our email, these all can contain the wonder and excitement giving us the hope that things may soon be better! The second aspect is the feeling we are connected to something bigger than before. Getting married, getting accepted to a college or fraternity, completing a big project. It’s when we see the possibilities and feel connected that we are most joyful. But even when we are able to embody these traits, something else we may be doing can be an obstacle to our joy.
According to the Jewish zodiac, each of the months correspond to one of the tribes of Israel. The month of Adar is given to the sons of Yosef, Ephriam and Menasheh, each one getting one of the two Adars. The first Adar corresponds to Menasheh. Funny thing about Menasheh, when he gets his name in the book of Bereishis (41:51), Yosef says the name means the following; “Because God has made me forget all my hardships, and all that was in my father’s house.”
It’s clear that Yosef suffered. Being sold into slavery by his brothers. Hard labor. Being blamed for a crime he didn’t commit and spending over a decade in prison. Could you blame Yosef for being resentful? Of course not! In fact, what might many of us do after going through something like that? Demand an apology? Insist on some kind of retribution? What about ending the relationship? We all know someone (if not ourselves) who has felt like being done. Be it a parent, a sibling, or some other relationship that get’s to a point where we say, “That’s it! I don’t need them anymore. Good riddance to bad rubbish.” The quote from the Torah sort of sounds like that’s what Yosef is saying.
However Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer has a different understanding. He says that, “forgetting all that was in my fathers house,” isn’t about Yosef severing himself from his past but instead, that he was finally able to let go. It was with the birth of his first son, that he was finally able to move on.
Letting Go for God
In this week’s parsha, the Jewish people are instructed to bring an offering known as a Terumah. It is a gift meant as a contribution to the building of the portable sanctuary known as the Mishkan. The shoresh (root) of this word Terumah is rom which means to elevate. The implication being that by giving to the Mishkan, we will elevate that which we own and that work we do to earn it. But there is a deeper lesson. How do we offer a Terumah today when there’s no Mishkan or Temple to contribute to? How do we elevate?
Take the high road.
Yes there are times when we are insulted or blamed for things we didn’t do. Sometimes someone makes a bold and ignorant claim at a Shabbos table. Is it really worth setting these people straight? Is it really your duty to make sure they are corrected? Even if you were personally hurt, do you need to sink to their level?
When we realize these moments are actually opportunities to take the high road, it deepens our connection with Hashem in a tremendous way. Another line from parsha Terumah is, “They shall make for me a Sanctuary and I will then dwell in their midsts.” (Shemos 25:8) The Neffesh Ha-Chayim understands that this also means we have the ability to build such a Sanctuary within each and every one of us. And at that point God dwells within the person. How do we build a Sanctuary within us? Create a space for God to dwell. Taking the high road is one of the best ways to do it.
Letting Go When It Isn’t Easy
However, Judaism doesn’t preach “turn the other cheek.” We need time to process our feelings. It’s why when we lose someone (God forbid) we are prescribed a mourning process. Seven days to deal with the immediate cataclysm, thirty days to slowly transition back into regular life, and then a year to remember our loved one. After that period it is time to move on.
The indignities and betrayals we suffer require a similar process. Though by no means as specifically regimented. Essential criteria is that we need to hear an apology. To forgive someone without that isn’t real. Once you get that apology, you should bring yourself to forgive them. In fact according to Rambam, if someone apologizes to you three times and you say no, the transgression transfers to you. As long as you don’t let it go, you are holding on to your past and life will be bitter.
The Nullification of 60
Let’s say you’re cooking a big pot of beef stew and accidentally a drop of milk falls into that stew. Have you now transgressed the prohibition of cooking milk and meat and now your whole stew is unkosher? Not necessarily. The rabbi says that if the milk is less than 1/60 the portion of the rest of the stew, the milk is nullified and the stew is kosher.
From this we learn that 60 almost always nullifies. Well isn’t it interesting that two months of Adar is 60 days (okay technically it’s 59 days but with the double Rosh Chodesh at the beginning, I’m sure there’s a day for extra joy somewhere). The point is, this leap year is a unique opportunity to focus on happiness and let go of the bitterness that may be impeding your ability to seize the joy of life. Take the time to dedicate these two special months to cultivating happiness. Find one thing a day to be happy about. Make the decision to let go of the petty. Meditate on your possibilities and connection. And make efforts to capitalize on joy whenever it comes your way. It’s an exceptional time. Happy Adar!