Rosh Hodesh Adar Torah Essay
Zahava Moskowitz sharing highlights from Nediva Buechler’s Rosh Hodesh D’var Torah.
Both are current Eshkolot Fellows
The month of Adar is most famous as being the month in which we celebrate Purim, one of the most peculiar holidays in our calendar. On the one hand, we understand that the nature of the holiday is to rejoice in our salvation, in a way which is instinctive – through food and drink. One the other, we must ask ourselves what the religious significance of this is! In most of our other chagim, the food is not the main focus, but rather it accompanies a more specifically spiritual action which expresses the purpose of the day. While we do have the halakhic obligation to hear the reading of the Megillah twice over the chag, the rest of our halakhically mandated actions seem inexplicably mundane and physical.
This is particularly interesting to note, when we compare Purim with Chanukah. These are the two non-Biblical holidays, which were added to our calendars after the Torah was given, both celebrate victory over non-Jewish enemies, and yet in some ways they are opposites. It has been long recognized that in Megillat Esther, Hashem’s name does not appear. No credit is given to God for the Jewish survival, instead everything rests on the shoulders of Mordechai and Esther and the “coincidences” in the sequence of events. Since we know that God was truly behind the outcome of this story, in a certain sense Purim seems to celebrate God’s hidden side, since we aren’t recognizing an obvious salvation from G-d. Whereas with Chanukah, we celebrate clear miracles, events that would be impossible according to the laws of nature. We celebrate the light from the Bet HaMikdash, and we are clearly connecting to and recognizing Hashem in our understanding of these events.
Another interesting distinction between these holidays, is that while both celebrate our victories, what we are victorious over is drastically different in each case. In the story of Chanukah, the conflict was cultural. It was about polytheism’s threat to the Jewish tradition, but didn’t threaten the physical lives of the Jewish people, as long as they gave in to Greek practice. Purim was the exact opposite – the Jews had been designated to die. Their religious observance was irrelevant, it only had to do with their lineage, their membership in this nation (something we unfortunately saw a repeat of less than a century ago).
Given both of these aspects of Purim, it could therefore make sense to celebrate in a very physical way – it was our physical lives being saved, and it was being done so through physical agents. The nature of the story informs the nature of our remembrance. In this sense Purim is a simple, celebratory, fun holiday. But perhaps this simplicity requires extra understanding in order to be achieved.
The Torah Temima quotes the Gemara in Shabbat (88a), that Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah after “כפה עליהם הר כגיגית”, after Hashem ‘overturned the mountain’ above the people – essentially, this paints a picture of coercion; Bnei Yisrael accept the Torah after being threatened/forced. The Gemara then goes on to connect this to its interpretation of pasuk 9:27 in Megillat Esther, “קימו וקבלו היהודים” – “The Jews established and accepted”, this is when they willingly accept the Torah again. They had already taken it upon themselves at Sinai, and now they are fulfilling that which they had previously accepted.
The Maharal, in his sefer Or Chadash on Megillat Esther, further explains the connection between these two stories: Of course the Jews willingly accepted the Torah at Sinai! “נעשה ונשמע”, “we will do and we will listen”, is written explicitly in Sefer Shmot (24:7)! The mountain being referred to in the Gemara is not anything physical. It is alluding to the general phenomenon that was Matan Torah – the fire, the thunder, the smoking mountain, the experience of recognizing God through His voice, a divine revelation the likes of which had never occurred before, and has not occurred since! How could anyone standing there have possibly turned their backs? What other choice was there but to accept? It’s “forced” in the sense that there simply is no other option. It’s too obvious! And in that way, there wasn’t true free will in that moment. When there is only one option, that is the road you must take.
Purim is the exact opposite. There is no obvious display, there is no clearly divine presence. We are saved through concealed actions, to the extent that Hashem’s name is not even mentioned. Esther, whose name literally means “hidden”, represents this hidden hand of God. And yet, the people are able to perceive that Hashem is the one controlling the action from behind-the-scenes, and they choose this moment to reaffirm their acceptance of the Torah, and its laws. This is the conclusion to the story of Har Sinai, this closes the circle – finally the Jews can accept God, without His obvious presence.
It is therefore fitting that we would celebrate this holiday in a mask of physicality, yet underneath it brims with spirituality. All of our actions have halakhic dictation, significance, and purpose, but at the same time, it manifests in simple, pure enjoyment. It isn’t celebrated in the most spiritually obvious way, because part of the beauty is that it wasn’t a spiritually obvious event. We are acknowledging our ability to perceive God and accept Him, specifically without it being obvious, and specifically in a moment where He doesn’t demand it of us. It is our initiative to give thanks, to express our inner joy, and we celebrate our discovery of Him.
It is in this way that the Ari’s comparison of Purim and Yom Kippur is understood. Yom Kippur is “יום כפורים”, “a day like Purim”, and yet on the surface they couldn’t be less similar. We have the holiest, most spiritual day on Yom Kippur, and the most physical, frivolous day on Purim. And yet both days are those of pure truth. Both lead to a re-acceptance of God and Torah, which we have just started attempting to keep, through honest, interconnected joy and through detached, personal, serious reflection. They both get to the core of a person’s nature, and we place our vulnerable selves before God, both because He demands it of us, and because we can perceive the light showing us that this is what’s right.
חודש טוב וחג פורים שמח!!
This Dvar Torah is based on Rav Ezra Bick