What’s not to love about the month of Adar? After all, aren’t we obsessed with finding happiness? Don’t we live in a happiness-seeking culture? Shouldn’t we be thrilled now because “mi’she’nichnas Adar marbin b’simcha,” namely when Adar arrives we increase our happiness? But here’s the problem. What do we do if we are just not feeling it? What do we do if we struggle emotionally or if we are anxious, frustrated or upset? How do we achieve the state of mind of being “marbin b’simcha” if we are feeling down?
Perhaps the Sfat Emet can help us. The Sfat Emet (Taanit 29a) asks why do we increase our happiness in the month of Adar? Our initial inclination is that the happiness of this month is all about Purim, but that can’t be correct. After all, we do not celebrate Purim until the middle of the month, and yet we must increase our happiness from the beginning of the month. Therefore, the Sfat Emet explains that the happiness is:
משום שבאדר היה קיום הקרבנות והמקדש דבאדר זמן שקלים לחדש בניסן התרומה חדשה ונדבו בני ישראל בשמחה שקלי הקודש
Adar was the month of the upkeep of the sacrifices and the Temple, since the month of Adar is the time to collect donations for the public sacrifices of the new year which begins in the month of Nissan. Each member of Bnei Yisrael happily donated one half of a shekel.
The happiness of Adar, then, is the happiness of giving, of service, of the entire nation coming together and participating because happiness is generated when we live a life of service. Indeed, when the Torah obligates us to be happy during the shalosh regalim of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, the Rambam (Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18) writes that anyone who eats and drinks with his family during these holidays but does not provide food for the needy so that they, too, can celebrate these holidays does not fulfill the mitzvah of happiness. Again, true happiness is living a life of service. True happiness is generated by putting a smile on someone else’s face. It is not about what we receive but what we give.
In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey distinguishes between our Circle of Concern and our Circle of Influence. Our Circle of Concern refers to things that we care about and our Circle of Influence refers to things that we can impact. Our Circle of Concern includes a wide range of concerns that we have, including health, family, finances, the economy, politics, etc. Many of these things are outside of our control and some are within our control. For example, we may be concerned about the health of a family member or the economy, but it is beyond our control. It is important to identify our Circle of Influence that is inside our Circle of Concern, those things that are concerning to us that we can control. If we focus our energy on our Circle of Concern that is outside our Circle of Influence, then we deplete our energy, we are left full of much anxiety, and we are left unhappy. But if we focus our energy on our Circle of Influence that is within our Circle of Concern, then we live a life of service and we help others who are struggling, and this behavior generates true happiness.
Once we change our approach on how to find happiness, then something else happens. Our whole attitude begins to change and soon everything we do is done with a bounce in our step. We start performing what the gemara in Masechet Shabbat 30b calls simcha shel mitzvah, the joy of a mitzvah. We no longer perform mitzvot as a yoke on our shoulders feeling the weight of the mitzvot resting heavily on shoulders. We now proudly live a life of service and embrace all of God’s commandments as part of our Divine service.
It all starts from a realization that even when we might be sad or anxious or frustrated, happiness is a choice and we generate happiness by doing for others. As we usher in the month of Adar, this month of increased happiness, let us all take a moment or two and think about how we can help others who are struggling more than we are. Once we do this, then, with the help of God, a whole new world and a whole new attitude will open up before our very eyes.