It would make sense to start the Jewish calendar year on Rosh Hashana, literally the “head of the year,” the anniversary of the creation of humans, but that’s not how it goes in the Bible. Just as we are about to leave Egypt, with great signs and wonders, the first commandment given to the nation is initializing the calendar. Therefore, the Jewish year actually begins with Nissan, the month of Pesach, making the preceding month of Adar the last one of the year. Adar is both a time to celebrate and a season of reckoning.
The secret of Adar is concealed behind the “mask” of Purim. The scroll we read, Megillat Esther, is one of the closing entries in the Jewish biblical canon and interestingly, has no mention of God’s name. We start the year with the Pesach Haggadah and its manifold recitations of gratitude to God for the miracles performed on our behalf. By the end of the Jewish calendar year, God is out of the dialog and it’s all about Mordechai and Queen Esther. What has changed? Over the Jewish year, we transition from an emphasis on God’s revealed hand in our redemption (Exodus) to a focus on the action of individuals while God operates behind the scenes (Esther). The message: God is always with us, even when God’s presence is hidden. In order to retain our freedom of choice, God is precisely concealed, to the exact degree that we must strive to find God. This spiritual awareness is the engine of our enhanced joy during this special month. Megillat Esther can be translated as “revealing the hidden.” This remarkable tome serves as a lesson plan for perceiving God’s hand behind all events, for all time.
The month of Adar provides us with the opportunity to bask in the emunah (faith) we have crafted over the Jewish calendar year. Every holiday, beginning with our national homecoming (Pesach), receiving the Torah (Shavuot) and then the High Holidays and Sukkot, serves to bolster our perception of this invisible shield of divine love and protection. By Purim, we rejoice in a seemingly “God-less” story, knowing with simple faith that God’s grace is behind all the triumphs and mishaps in our lives. The true goal of Adar is to perceive the good in “bad breaks” — accepting joy AND pain without despair.
One of the central tenets of Judaism is that each of us has a crucial role in Tikkun Olam. This is emphasized at the climax of the Purim story: when Queen Esther is given the chance to be the hero by Uncle Mordechai, he warns her, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will come from another place” (Esther 4:14). Thankfully, she saves the day. All of us are faced with this fundamental challenge. We can opt-in or relegate ourselves to the sidelines. God will get the job done regardless. I say: let’s go for it!
Purim should be celebrated with heartfelt exuberance. Take advantage of the transformative power of the four special mitzvah opportunities: hear the megillah chanted both night and day, give substantially to the needy, offer neighbors packages of a few items of food as a token of friendship and eat a hearty meal at the end of the day. For many of us, intoxication gets us to a place where the heart is opened; we can love more readily and tears of joy can flow. For some of us, getting intoxicated is a mistake. For me, personally, after a few l’chaims, my empathy muscle is stronger and charity becomes even more natural.
Let us apply the lessons of Purim year-round. Acknowledge the miracle of God’s stewardship behind the scrim of our lives. Be there for a friend with a gift of food, the gift of time and a patient ear. Seek out opportunities to serve the needy. Be deeply grateful for the feeling of belongingness to this remarkable nation. Share words of Torah with a lighthearted song and a smile. May we always seek to emulate the courage of Queen Esther; not standing idly by with all the challenges facing our people and the entire world.