Preparing for A Month of Simcha

This week, we will bentch Rosh Chodesh Adar, and from the very birth of the new moon (Pri Megadim 551:2), we are enjoined to be happy (Taanis 26b). But what exactly does that require and how do we do it?

Rav Gamliel Rabinovich (Tiv Hamoadim, page 71) points out that emotions cannot be easily manufactured, and therefore, mandating the feeling known as simcha takes a great deal of preparation. It can’t just be turned on at the molad, yet it is a clear halacha and must be quite accessible to each one of us.

Interestingly, the Shulchan Aruch (551) only specifically mentions that during the month of Av we must reduce our joy, but it does not record that during Adar we must increase it. This leads Rav Chaim Kanievsky (quoted by Rav Yisroel Dardac, Yismach Yisroel, page 6, note 29) to conclude that it is only “advisable” (eitzah tovah) to increase our joy during Adar, whereas during Av it is required that we diminish it. It would seem that it is not so simple to become happy even when we are supposed to do so, so how indeed do we accomplish this apparently difficult goal?

To be sure, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:123-125) teaches that just as during Av we slowly reduce our joy over a period of three weeks, culminating in the fasting and sorrow of Tishah B’Av, so should we calibrate our happiness during Adar to coordinate with the exultation of Purim. Yet, it does not seem as clear how to achieve this ascending crescendo of elation so that by Purim we have reached the pinnacle of our joy. What are we supposed to be thinking about and what will become the source of our cheer and exhilaration?

Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Resisei Laylah 9) expresses the idea that we should concentrate upon Hashem’s Hashgacha Protis – Divine Providence – in our lives. The very fact that Hashem is so involved in our lives, although this is usually completely hidden from us, is a source of great consolation and joy.

At the very beginning of the Kuzari, the king who is searching for the “true religion” asks the Greek philosopher if the G-d he believes in cares about human beings on earth. The philosopher claims that there is no purpose in praying to G-d, for He is uninterested and uninvolved in our lives. The king knows instantly that this kind of deity cannot be the G-d of which he has been dreaming, since if G-d is apathetic about His creatures, why would we turn to Him for any relationship?

Purim teaches us that not only is Hashem involved and cares totally about us, but that He arranges, manipulates and controls the universe so that His people are protected and supported when they need Him most. This is certainly one very practical and important way to prepare for Adar and Purim.

 Another and perhaps even deeper aspect of this preparation is related to something called the sechok of Purim. This concept may found in the Sefer Yetzirah (chapter 5), as quoted by Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron (Yemei Purim, page 356). Although sechok is variously translated as laughter, derision or even some kind of game or amusement, it carries a special Purim meaning. Rav Cohen quotes the famous Gemara (end of Makkos) where Rebbi Akiva is mesacheik at the horrific scene of the churban, while his colleagues, the other holy Tannaim, are crying. Quoting the Alter of Kelm (see Michtav M’Eliyahu 3:245), he establishes that sechok is the ability to transform tragedy into something wondrous and positive. Where the other Tannaim see only catastrophe, Rebbi Akiva sees the light of geulah. This idea is also reflected in the posuk (Tehillim 126:1-2) which states, “…we will be like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with sechok (laughter).” The Alter explains that when Moshiach comes, all the suffering of the ages will seem like a dream, all our questions will be instantaneously answered, and we will be at peace. That is the ultimate laughter, which is laughing at what once brought us to tears.

In the case of Purim, all of Haman’s evil machinations – bikeish, he plotted – came to naught, for it was Hashem’s plan to turn every one of his plots to our advantage. Thus, the tree, the banquets, the plot against the king, and Haman’s ostensible favor in the eyes of the king were all turned to our benefit. That is the sechok of Purim, as defined by vena’afoch hu – turning all events upside down and reminding us that although we think that we see, we do not know what we are witnessing until Hashem opens our eyes. My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, inyan 9) also sees the sechok of Purim as an otherworldly ability to transform and understand the hitherto incomprehensible.

Finally, we may discover a way to prepare for the delicate avodah of simchas Purim from a maamar given at a mesibas Purim by Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok (Inyan 13). Haman had offered the canard that although Hashem was once powerful, He was asleep and no longer protecting His people (Megillah 13b). The Gemara’s drasha stems from the words yeshno am echad, which literally mean “there is a nation,” but contain the word yoshon, which means “sleeping.” Rav David points out that Chazal are teaching us that embedded in the frightening word yeshno, which implies weakness or abandonment, G-d forbid, is the powerful antidote yeish, which proclaims “but He is!” The source of this drasha, the rosh yeshiva continues, is the statement of Chazal (see Rashi to Shemos 17:8) that Amaleik’s attack came in the wake of our moment of apparent doubt, “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” which is formulated with the word “hayeish – is He?” Klal Yisroel’s failure to believe that Hashem is always with us empowered Amaleik to attack us with the derisive taunt that we had been abandoned (see Shemos Rabbah 26:2).

Sometimes, Hashem tests us to see if our faith is so strong that even when we are asleep in our emunah, our faith shines through. For this reason, the Torah frames the test of the false prophet as “hayishchem ohavim es Hashem – to know if you love Hashem” (Devorim 13:4). The test of Amaleik itself awakens in Klal Yisroel its innate love and trust of Hashem even when all seems bleak and dark. Thus, despite the fact that at Refidim, Amaleik attacked us because we had become weakened in Torah, we left Refidim having done a complete teshuvah (Rashi, Shemos 19:2). At the time of Purim as well, Hashem tested us in the same way. The time for redemption had arrived, the promised seventy years were over, but Amaleik seemed ascendant. There was room for someone to think that Hashem was, chas veshalom, yoshon. Instead, Mordechai and Esther taught Klal Yisroel that Hashem is yeish – He is with us, as always, especially when things seem at their worst. The die has been cast, the decree has been enacted. We seem lost, but we are found to be ohavim es Hashem nevertheless.

This is the greatest source of our simchas Purim. Hashem is with us when there is light and especially when there is darkness. He is the G-d of Whom we say “lo yonum velo yishon.” He never sleeps. Even if we are ad delo yoda, we do not know or understand what or why things are happening. All we need to know is that He knows and understands. That is the essence of our emunah and bitachon. We may add to the rosh yeshiva’s powerful words that the sechok of Purim has been our way through crusades and inquisitions, pogroms and holocausts. We do not understand, but we know that we can go to sleep knowing that He does.

Preparing for Purim means thinking about these great moments in our past, reflecting upon the joy and confidence of knowing that Hashem is watching over us whatever swirls around us, slowly bringing us from a smile to laughter to a state of spiritual elation. Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha.