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February 29th and Adar Rishon: More Time to Rejoice Over Our Unity

At the end of his famous “Prayer of Preparation to Pray”, Reb Elimelech expressed the heartfelt request that every one of us should be able “to look for and focus upon the good and worthy attributes of our fellows rather than their shortcomings”

Today, the Jewish calendar and the secular become somewhat alike. We gain more time with a double leap year. The Jewish calendar adds the month of Adar Rishon and the Secular calendar has also squeezed another day, the gift of February 29th. Although this is not a truly rare occurrence, it certainly is not common either. It will not happen again until 2052!

The Jewish month of Adar, containing the jubilant festival of Purim, is traditionally one of happiness and joy, with the Rabbis telling us that “when Adar starts we increase our joy”. This year we have a double opportunity. Yet, given the war and malaise engulfing the world over, this emotion, issued by our Sages of old, seems like a rather tall order. I do not see anyone yet leaping for joy. How do we increase our positivity during such troubled times, let alone have a double dose?

If we look at the Purim story we note that the background to Haman’s genocidal decree was the verse, “Haman then said to King Achashverosh, ‘There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.’” (Esther 3:8). The Hebrew term for ‘there is’ is ‘yeshno’, the same letters as the word ‘they are asleep’. A connection made by the Rabbis of the Talmud. Not only were we asleep but we were scattered and dispersed across the empire, plagued by a lack of internal unity. It was these divisions that rendered us vulnerable, sleeping on the job and being susceptible to being wiped off the face of the earth.

We can therefore understand the reason why Esther felt that it was so important to ‘Gather together all the Jews in Shushan and fast on my (her) behalf’ (Esther 4:16). It was at this moment of crisis that the fragmented nation drew close to each other, awakening in heartfelt prayer, realising that they had no one else to turn to.

This story seems somewhat prescient or familiar given the horrific events of 7th October. We were a nation divided as well as asleep, too caught in in-fighting and apathy to appreciate how precarious our situation was and of our role in a slumbering world. The wake-up call that we received on Simchat Torah quickly brought us back to our senses, highlighting that which is important in life, both personal and national. We rediscovered our unity, our purpose, and the value of every Jew regardless of their background or affiliation.

This value is something that my ancestor, the Chassidic master Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1787) placed a special emphasis on. At the end of his famous “Prayer of Preparation to Pray”, he expressed the heartfelt request that every one of us should be able “to look for and focus upon the good and worthy attributes of our fellows rather than their shortcomings”.

Purim is all about looking behind the mask, realising that externals are just a façade. People come in all shapes and sizes, in all types and stripes. Externally we may look very different from one another, but deep down in our essence,  each and every one of us carries a unique goodness and Godliness.

Perhaps one of the ways that we can find true joy this Adar is by appreciating the value of every single person and, within our own nation and family, every Jew. Sometimes it takes us realising the extent to which our enemies are willing to go to destroy us in order for us to appreciate that value.

Over the last few months, we have prayed and cried for Jews we have never met and who may very well lead different lifestyles to our own, yet at our core we are all family, children of One Father.

This year, the Yahrzeit of Rav Elimelech falls out on the evening of this extra day, today, Thursday 29th February, in the additional month of Adar Rishon. Perhaps there is a message for each of us at this time: that we all need to leap forward today, to stretch ourselves and to go the extra distance to increase and maintain a sense of love and unity between all Jews.

About the Author
Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the Founder and CEO of Jewish Futures, a diverse family of non-profit educational organisations each addressing a specific need and niche. These include JRoots, GIFT, Aish UK, Chazak, Chazon, Shelanu, Ta’am, Time4Torah, Legacy Live, Aleinu, and the Forum for Jewish Leadership. Jewish Futures is committed to creating and implementing far reaching solutions that will realise the vision of a brighter Jewish future. Naftali studied Economics and International Relations at the London School of Economics, received Rabbinic ordination from the Israel and Jerusalem Rabbinate and Diploma of Education from Israel Ministry of Education. He served in the IDF Givati Infantry unit and is a founding board member of Loving World and a number of philanthropic foundations.
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