Easier said than done. We’re about to welcome the month of Adar, when only three days later we are enjoined to add joy into our lives (Taanis 29a). But what exactly are celebrating and how do we “force ourselves” to be happy?
It would seem that the simcha of Adar is not fully that of Purim, since the Yom Tov has not yet arrived. So what exactly is wanted of us?
Rav Yonasan David has a solution (Mesibos Purim 15:12). He begins with a halachic problem. The Darkei Moshe (Tur, end of 696) cites a question about getting married on Purim. He responds that although some hold that this is a problem of “mixing one form or joy with another,” he notes that he has witnessed gedolim who made weddings on Purim. They defend themselves against the charge that they are transgressing the edict of the Gemara (Moed Koton 8b) that “You shall celebrate with your Yom Tov” means as opposed to being happy to get married. Their explanation is that this applies only to Biblical Yomim Tovim, but not holidays such as Purim where the posuk indicates that they are for mishteh vesimcha, implying whatever makes us happy. Rav Yonasan declares this to be a great chiddush and sets forth to discover its source and inner meaning.
In a very closely reasoned analysis, Rav David proves that the joy of Purim and therefore of Adar itself is unique, unlike that of any other Yom Tov. It is the simchas hachaim of life itself. Not only were our lives spared, but it was established that without Klal Yisroel, there is no purpose to a world and even to having a Torah. The Torah requires someone to uphold that Torah and the world requires Klal Yisroel to be the ones who will perform that sacred task. Thus, mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha cannot and does not delineate any particular mode of delight or elation. It is sui generis to joy itself. We are alive, and at the moment, that itself is sufficient. For this reason, the Rama, in his Darkei Moshe, rules that one may celebrate in any and all kosher ways which bring happiness. Therefore, one may get married on Purim, which is simply another way to commemorate being alive (Yotzer Ha’adam).
To return now to our question of the day, what is wanted of us during this special month and especially on Purim itself?
Perhaps we can borrow some wisdom from a story told by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (introduction to Sefer Simcha Babayis, page 39). A young member of a kollel arrived home to find that his simple abode had been burgled, leaving them bereft of any meager valuables that they had owned. It was clear that his wife was at fault, since she had left the door unlocked, almost inviting the robbers in to take what they pleased. The yungerman expressed his anger at the evil robbers in the strongest of terms, loudly castigating them for having no compassion upon poor people who barely had anything themselves and were now wiped out. However, when his wife finally arrived home to the disaster, he smiled at her warmly, expressing his compassion for her loss, since it was she who would suffer the most from this terrible incursion.
When Rav Zilberstein heard about the husband’s amazing reaction, he inquired, “How were you able to control yourself so beautifully without blaming your wife?”
His answer was as wise as it was gracious. “Everything good that I have in the world is because of her,” he said lovingly. “How can I now get angry at her because of one mistake?”
We, too, must try to focus on all the wonderful things Hashem has given us over the years and decades. If we would always remember the good things that we have and not focus on the negatives, we would be able to be happy all the time. Using both Rav Yonasan David’s interpretation of Adar and Rav Zilberstein’s forgiving and even grateful yungerman, we can develop a plan for the exultant month ahead.
We can join Rav Zilberstein once again in a different work (Mitzvos B’simcha, page 232), where he teaches a lesson learned from a group of children. These incredible boys were members of a Chevras Tehillim who were invited to a mesibah celebrating their completion of Sefer Tehillim many times over a specific period of time. Although the organizers had purchased treats for every child, many more showed up than expected and there weren’t enough candies and snacks to go around. One of the adults thought of a plan to save the day by offering two prizes to any child who agreed to forgo the treat that day and to receive double the following week. One of the children immediately asked if this constituted the prohibition of ribbis – forbidden interest – and was therefore not a solution to the problem. Several of the fathers were talmidei chachomim who debated the shailah in a Torah fashion, but ultimately decided to submit the question to Rav Zilberstein, the mara d’asra of the area. He was inclined to be lenient (based upon a gloss of Rav Yaakov Emden in Shabbos 127), but pointed out that the main takeaway from the whole story was how we can learn from young children to be happy with what we have, turn it into a Torah learning moment, and be willing to delay gratification.
We, too, should take our cue from these heilige kinderlach, look at the bright side of everything in our lives, and be willing to look to the future for a better day. In this way, we will be rewarded for our patience, forbearance or tolerance of a less than perfect situation. In truth, this would seem to be a mandate for our avodas Hashem all year long. The posuk (Tehillim 100:2) teaches us to serve Hashem with joy constantly. Even more powerfully, after the frightening Tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo and its 98 curses, the Torah tells us that the reason we are punished so severely is that we “have not served Hashem amid gladness and goodness of heart.” We must therefore look even more deeply into the Adar and Purim mandate for simcha which surpasses that of the rest of the year.
Let us skip from Adar to the Purim of Rav Yisrael Salanter, sitting with his talmidim. “The halacha,” intoned Rav Yisroel, “teaches that on Purim, anyone who extends a hand, you must give him something. Therefore, today I am offering to daven for you to receive whatever your heart desires.” Rav Yisroel knew that these few lofty disciples were not interested in the trivial materialistic things that occupy most people. He knew that they would ask only for spiritual gifts and he was ready to oblige. One of his three top talmidim was Rav Naftoli Amsterdam (the others being Rav Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, and Rav Itzele, the rov of St. Petersburg). He spoke up quickly: “Rebbe, I wish to have the head of Rav Akiva Eiger, the heart of the author of the Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah, and rebbe, your middos.” However, this time, Rav Yisroel did not provide. “Naftoli,” he answered lovingly but sternly, “Hashem wants you to serve him with your own head, with your own heart, and with your own middos.” Amongst the Chassidim, the Rebbe Reb Zisha of Anipoli used to say, “I know that Hashem will not demand of me why I wasn’t the Baal Shem Tov or Mezeritcher Magdid. But he will ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Zisha?’”
This is what Hashem wants of us during Adar and perhaps beyond if we can maintain our growth. He wants us to be happy with who we are, as long as we have developed our potential and abilities. Rav Dovid Povarsky said something similar, but on a different level. He referenced the posuk, “Light is sown for the righteous and for the upright of heart, gladness” (Tehillim 97:11). He explained that yishrei lev receive simcha because they straighten out their middos and become everything that they can potentially achieve. We should add that Shlomo Hamelech indeed teaches that “Hashem has made man yoshor” (Koheles 7:29). This means that man’s default position is to be straight and good. It his natural state, but when he ruins it, he can become evil. When we are good, we are happy, and that it is our “normal condition.” Although we live in a world where everything around us attempts to distort our true selves, all we really need to do is to be loyal to our pure, unadulterated neshamos. That is something to be very happy about.
This is also the Purim lesson. Achashveirosh celebrated the ephemeral pleasures of materialism for 180 days. Haman was intoxicated by the lure of gashmiyus, wealth and worldly power. But during Purim, we realize that they are all false masks, hiding the true joys of ruchniyus and quiet internal greatness. Even if we must sometimes attend the king’s party, we must remember that we are only wearing a mask until we can show our truly radiant faces, shining with Torah, avodas Hashem, and the happiness to be a Torah Jew in Hashem’s beautiful world.