Rosh Hodesh Adar 1 Torah Essay
The Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה beloved mother of Barbara Hanus
Rosh Hodesh Adar 1 Torah Essay
The Simcha of Adar
Chodesh Tov! Today we are celebrating Rosh Chodesh Adar Alef. This month is added in order to keep Nissan in the springtime, since Pesach must be celebrated as חג האביב. This “bonus” month of Adar raises questions about its status and significance. The Mishna declares “אין בין אדר הראשון לאדר השני אלא קריאת המגילה ומתנות לאביונים”, that the only difference between the first and second Adar relates to the mitzvot of reading of the Megillah and Matanot L’evyonim. The Gemara there continues that although Purim is not celebrated in Adar Alef, the month is in some ways similar to Adar Bet. י”ד אדר in both months cannot be designated as a fast day and eulogies are not given- “ושוין בהספד ובתענית שאסורין בזה ובזה”. What, then, is the actual status of this month we are entering?
The Gemara elsewhere famously writes “משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה.” Our above question can be applied here as well- does this statement hold true for Adar Alef? This is a matter of debate in the Rishonim. Tosfot maintains that in Adar Alef there is a prohibition against eulogies but not the added mitzvah to increase our happiness. Both The Rosh and the Ran believe that the prohibition against eulogies and the mitzvah of joy are linked. The Rosh holds that neither principle applies in Adar Alef, whereas the Ran holds that both apply in Adar Alef.
While it is a מחלוקת regarding the “מרבים בשמחה” of Adar Alef, it is important to note one word here- מרבים. There is a status quo of being in a state of simcha; it is just to be increased during Adar. Whether or not this directive applies in Adar Alef or not, I would like to explore the concept of simcha and see its particular relevance to Adar.
We are repeatedly commanded in the Torah to celebrate with simcha. Almost always this injunction requires us to be happy “לפני ה”. The Netziv, in his commentary on these words, explains that this simcha should not be due to the fulfilment of physical desire. Rather, this simcha should be experienced specifically before Hashem; there is something spiritual about this simcha. While many of these pesukim relating to simcha are in the context of chagim and korbanot, we do find that simcha is meant to pervade all of our mitzvot. David Hamelech wrote in Tehillim “עִבְדוּ אֶת ה’ בְּשִׂמְחָה,” insisting that simcha is part and parcel of the service of G-d. In the תוכחה of Parshat Ki Tavo, Bnei Yisrael are admonished that “תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָבַדְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב מֵרֹב כֹּל”- because they had not served Hashem out of joy and goodness of heart, they will be cursed. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that we are obligated to not only keep Hashem’s mitzvot but do so gladly, in a state of happiness. The Pele Yoetz writes further that a person should feel great joy upon doing mitzvot, greater than someone who had just found a treasure. The Rambam places great emphasis on this as well, stating that doing mitzvot with joy is a real avodah and not doing so is cause for reproof.
If this simcha shel mitzvah is an integral component in the service of G-d all year long, why does the Gemara teach to increase it in the month of Adar? If we are just extra happy because we were saved during Purim, why not increase our joy in Nissan because of Yetziat Mitzrayim or Kisleiv because of Chanukah? The idea of simcha is actually especially connected to the month of Adar and Purim. During this time of year we remember the defeat of Haman, the descendant of Amalek. A closer look at Amalek’s original attack on Bnei Yisrael will reveal that it was an attack particularly on the simcha of the Jewish people. When Moshe recounts the episode, he says how Amalek “קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ.” Rashi explains קָרְךָ to mean לְשׁוֹן מִקְרֶה, meaning coincidence. This was the philosophy of Amalek- everything happened by coincidence, with no rhyme or reason. Such a life outlook removes any relationship with Hashem. If everything occurs via coincidence, there is no room for religiosity or spirituality. Such an existence is dry, and definitely bereft of simcha.
But the Jewish people had just left Egypt and witnessed countless miracles, and it was clear to them that Hashem was actively involved in their lives. They were excited to serve Him, ready to do His word with simcha lifnei Hashem. Another explanation Rashi quotes from the Midrash is that קָרְךָ is connected to the root “קר,” cold; Amalek literally cooled Bnei Yisrael’s enthusiasm when they had been “on fire” and passionate about serving Hashem. When they left Egypt “וַחֲמֻשִׁים”, Onkeles translates the word as “וּמְזָרְזִין,” with an eagerness. The Sefat Emet writes that this eagerness comes from a place of simcha. Thus when Amalek attacked, they threatened Bnei Yisrael’s enthusiasm and simcha. Perhaps this is why Chazal direct us to increase our simcha during Adar. At this time of year when we seek to wipe out the Amalek in us, we [should also] seek to reinforce the simcha in our lives. All year long we work to do mitzvot with joy, and in Adar we do so with vigor to defy the Amalek philosophy of מקרה.
Whether we accept the view of the Ran that מרבים בשמחה applies in Adar Alef remains up for debate. However, the message of combating an impersonal approach to individual and national occurrences/events remains relevant. Perhaps maintaining a keen awareness of hashgachat Hashem as we approach Purim, can allow us to deepen our simcha shel mitzvah lifnei Hashem. May we all experience true שמחה של מצוה לפני ה’ during this month of Adar Alef and always!