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Parshas Pekudei (5774)

Happy Days Are Here Again

The Hebrew month of Adar II - which begins this coming Monday March 3rd - is the happiest month of the year. As the Talmud in Taanis 29a teaches us, “Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simchah – when the month of Adar begins, we increase our joy”. The abundance of joy in Adar is primarily due to the presence of Purim within the month. That holiday commemorates the miraculous salvation of the Jewish People from a genocidal plot by the wicked Haman, whereby he hoped to destroy the Jewish People completely.

What is interesting is that the Talmud tells us to “increase” our happiness and joy during the month of Adar, implying that we are really supposed to be in a perpetual state of happiness throughout the entire year, just that we pick up the joy a notch when Purim comes around.

What is the source of that perpetual joy, and what exactly happened around Purim time that would give us cause to increase that joy even more?

The answer to this question – and the key to perpetual happiness – can be found in a popular aphorism often quoted by the Sages of the Ages (see, for example, Metzudas David in his commentary to Proverbs 15:30) – “Ein Simchah k’Hataras Hasefeikos – there is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt”. This means that if we gain clarity of purpose and mission –we know who we are and what we are living for – then we will attain true simchah and happiness.

You see, the Jewish people are supposed to be happy – the kind of happiness that comes from knowing what being Jewish is all about – throughout the entire year. But sometimes we forget who we are as a people, we start doubting our purpose for being here – and we begin to see ourselves like just another nation with no unique mission to bring to the world – much like Haman who said about the Jews to King Acashveirosh: “Yeshno ‘am’ echad – there is a nation” (Esther 3:8). The Mahara”l explains Haman’s slanderous words to mean that the Jews at that time had lost sight of their unique purpose and had begun to see themselves as just another “nation” – and this lack of clarity and self-definition made them lose their passion for Torah and their joy in being Jewish.

Only after being shaken by the threat of total annihilation by Haman and his cohorts were the Jews reminded of their raison d’etre – their uniquely Jewish mission – which gave them renewed passion and joy, and a sense of clear purpose. With this clarity they merited to be saved – an event we celebrate each year on Purim, the happiest time of the year.

This idea is beautifully illustrated in a story told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn in his book Along the Maggid’s Journey (published by Artscroll Mesorah), about the famous Maggid (itinerant preacher) Rabbi Sholom Schwadron ZT”L, who, on one of his early trips to America from the Holy Land, witnessed his first major snowstorm. More than two feet of snow lay caked on the ground, and the Rabbi was homebound. On the third day, he ventured outside, taking in the beautiful scene of snow-covered trees and sidewalks. As he walked, he noticed a rabbi standing in the distance. He nodded his head in greeting and was surprised when there was no reply.

“Maybe he didn’t see me,” thought R’ Sholom. As he approached the man, he said, “Good morning”, and still there was no reply. This upset the Rabbi. After all, it was a mitzvah to greet each and every person, and the least he had expected was some minimal reaction. However, as R’ Sholom came up close to the rabbi, he was amazed to see that it wasn’t a man at all. It was a snowman! Attired in a hat, scarf and overcoat, and sporting a “beard”, the snowman had appeared from the distance – to someone who had never seen a snowman before – like a human being.

“When I came near him,” R’ Sholom recalled years later with infectious laughter, “I realized that he was ah kalter Yid (a cold Jew), and that’s why he didn’t respond. If an individual is indeed ah kalter Yid, it’s a sign of no life, no commitment, no passion.”

The Maggid went on to explain in the name of his Rabbi, Reb Leib Chasman ZT”L, that this was the problem the Jews had at the time of Purim – and that continues to plague us to this very day - and which they had to correct in order to merit being saved from the wicked Haman. They had been affected by the influence of Amalek (the arch-enemy and spiritual opposite of the Jews, and the nation to which Haman belonged) about whom the Torah states when the Jews left Egypt, “Asher ‘karcha’ baderech – they [Amalek] happened to come upon the Jewish People [to attack them]” (Deuteronomy 25:18).

Rabbi Chasman explained that the root of the word ‘karcha’ is kor (cold). Shortly after the Jews left Egypt with total clarity as to their mission and unique destiny, and with a tremendous passion to be a “light unto the nations”, along came Amalek and instilled a sense of coolness – a sense of indifference – in the Jews’ attitude towards the service of G-d and their purpose in life. Generations later, Haman did the same. This was reflected in the Jews’ participating in the great feast that King Achasveirosh made for the entire kingdom (see Megillas Esther Chapter 1) and in forgetting who they were as Jews.

Only later, when the Jews renewed their passion for being Jewish and their commitment to Torah and Mitzvos did they merit redemption and the Purim miracle – because they had rid themselves of their cold indifference, replacing their self-doubt with the joy and excitement that comes from clarity of purpose. This is the deeper reason why Purim and the month of Adar are the happiest times of the year.

The take-home lesson (and good news) for all of us today – and what the happiness of the month of Adar (and the year-round) is all about - is that if we really want to be happy as human beings and especially as Jews, we don’t need to buy a new car, redecorate our home, get liposuction, change jobs, take a vacation, do yoga – although all those things might make us feel better for a while.

All we really need to do to be happy – not that it’s so easy to do, of course - is to look within ourselves and gain clarity as to who we are and why we’re here. We need to remove the self-doubt that we sometimes have as Jews. This is the month in which we can and should remind ourselves of our amazing and unique history and destiny as Jews – even Mark Twain wondered about the secret of our nation’s immortality against all odds – and start feeling proud again and happy to be Jewish.

To help us out in restoring our pride and joy in who we are as Jews and in our unique mission, I highly recommend reading Rabbi Ken Spiro’s brilliant article Abraham’s Journey - part of his amazing online Crash Course in Jewish History – which you can find at…. Happy reading!

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