One of the most famous – and popular – statements in all of Shas is the declaration, “Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha – When Adar arrives, we increase our joy” (Taanis 26b). Although every child knows this mandate to be happy, there is very little clarity as to exactly how to go about adding more joy in our lives. Even some of our greatest contemporary gedolim do not agree on the basic issue of what marbim besimcha requires on a practical basis.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Sichah 1:187) suggests that if one is making a siyum, he should schedule it for Adar. If he has no siyum, he should drink some wine at the beginning of the month.
Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz zt”l (Derech Hachaim 2:216) thought that one should add more Torah learning, since there is no greater joy, although Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman (Mizekeinim Esbonan 4:213) feels that it is impossible to imagine the Chazon Ish learning less in other months than he did during Adar. In fact, the Chazon Ish is quoted (Maaseh Ish 5:180) as thinking that this statement is actually not a halacha, but a statement of reality; we are naturally happier in Adar than at any other time. When it was pointed out to him that the language of the Gemara implies that this is an imperative, he responded somewhat cryptically that his original interpretation was just a reaction, not a final ruling.
Finally, one must wonder with the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos Orach Chaim 160), why the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch mention the rule that one must reduce simcha during the month of Av, but leave out the concomitant halacha that one should increase joy during Adar. It is all quite mysterious indeed.
I believe that Rav Zev Hoberman zt”l (Ayeles Hashachar 3:430; Ze’ev Yitraf, Purim, volume 2) offers a path to understanding this cryptic mitzvah. He writes that “some take joy in learning Torah…others in a new home or the acquisition of major appliances, in fact anything upon which we would make the bracha of Shehecheyanu. But during this month, when we sang the song of going from death to life, our joy permeates every single breath we take. Indeed, it is life itself that makes us happy.” Surely, this concept encompasses the essence of Adar, which teaches us gratitude not only for specific things and accomplishments, but for the greatest gift of all, that of chaim. Let us explore this all-important life’s teaching.
To discover what we need to do to increase simcha during Adar, we must first understand what simcha itself is. Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l often cited early sources that explained the word sameiach, which refers to joy, as being closely related to the word tzameiach, which means growth, the letters sin and tzadi being interchangeable. He furthermore explained the Hebrew root etzev, which means that which withholds growth, as also meaning dejection or depression. This can be observed in the multilayered language of Lashon Hakodesh, where the measurement known as an amah comes in two varieties, amos sochakos and amos atzavos (Eiruvin 3b). The amos sochakos are expansive and large, whereas the amos atzavos are cramped and tiny. These terms neatly correspond to the meanings of sechok as expressing happiness and atzavos expressing discontent.
Chazal (Yevamos 62b) teach that “a man who has no wife dwells without simcha.” This can be understood as describing one who will not expand his horizons by building a “proper house in Yisroel,” since he cannot extend his family and spiritual borders to others of his own flesh and blood. In the same vein, one who does not fulfill his potential remains an atzeiv, both sad and ungratified in achieving his destiny and achieving the possibilities inherent in his abilities and proclivities. Conversely, one who has grown intellectually and spiritually, expanded the inner recesses of his soul, and created reality from potential is sameiach because he is tzameiach. One who is atzeiv, sad and unproductive, can transition into sameiach by becoming tzameiach. This can be attained by undertaking doable and practicable goals, slowly growing higher and more effective through the joy of success and accomplishment of one’s objectives (see Steipler Gaon zt”l, Eitzos Vehadrachos, page 29, and Vehayisa Ach Sameiach, pages 45 and 269).
With this approach, we can begin to understand the tremendous gift and opportunity of this wonderful month of Adar. We are exhorted to be marbim besimcha, which means that each one of us must expand our own ruchniyus potential in any way that we can make sure to succeed. For this reason, the details cannot be recorded in a universal concrete way. The Munkatcher Rebbe zt”l (Shaar Yissoschor, Maamar Chodesh Adar) explains that the Shulchan Aruch needed to delineate what is forbidden during the month of Av, since a Jew should never descend into atzvus, sadness, but every Jew is obligated to serve Hashem joyously (see Devorim 28:47), so “each person should assess how he can best add to his customary state of happiness.”
We might add, with the advice of the Steipler Gaon, that growth is, by definition, a very personal event and must include a multitude of considerations that only an individual can appreciate. This may be one of the meanings of the posuk which states, “The heart knows its own bitterness and no stranger will share in its joy (besimchaso)” (Mishlei 14:10). This may explain the extraordinary criticism that the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 18:27) seems to levy at Yisro, who “sat tranquilly in his land while the Jews were suffering, yet wanted to come and enjoy the glory of Mattan Torah.” By invoking this posuk in Mishlei, the Medrash may be alerting us that only those who have suffered can appreciate certain trajectories of growth, even if others are sympathetic and mean well. It is the experience of atzvus that leads to the simcha/tzemicha, if one has the courage, wisdom and opportunity to take advantage of the process. For us, during these weeks of Adar leading up to Purim, we are all granted the tremendous opportunity of adding spiritual levels to our souls, which in turn leads to the ultimate joy of Adar and Purim itself.
I believe that this is what Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l had in mind when he wrote that “the increasing joy of Adar is a profound internal experience that is hatzmachas hasimcha shehi hispatchus hasimcha – the growing of the joy which is also the development of the joy” (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:123). The marbim besimcha of Adar is not only linear, but the upwardly mobile vertical growth of one accomplishing goals each and every day, leading to the pinnacle of a new kabbolas haTorah on Purim out of sheer love (see Rashi, Shabbos 88a). Perhaps, the K’sav Sofer, too, had this in mind when he commented on Megillas Esther (9:28), “There is dual purpose to the reading of the Megillah: 1) To praise Hashem for the great kindnesses He heaped upon us during these days. 2) To always remember that we should never abandon hope or give up, G-d forbid, no matter what befalls us during the difficult days.”
We might conflate these two reasons into one with our understanding of the growth process that leads to ever-deepening simcha. Not despite but because we sinned at the feast of Achashveirosh, we knew that we needed to grow. Mordechai and Esther led us through a process of teshuvah and change that inevitably led to the sublime joy of Purim. This seminal method created an eternal mode of growth for us all, through the exaltation of discovering the hidden recesses of greatness within ourselves, where our true selves emerge, blossoming forth in an endless expansion of kavod Shomayim (see Pachad Yitzchok, Purim 2:9, and Kuntres Reshimos 2).