Making Time for Jewish Joy by Lauren Shaps
Hey to the Chevra,
The Jewish calendar operates with amazing precision. As the website JewFAQ.org explains, "The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so there is no direct correlation between them. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29 and one-half days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365 and one-quarter days, that is, about 12.4 lunar months." To keep things on track, so we don't end up celebrating Passover in July, a leap month is added every few years.
Of all the months of the year that could be added, the Sages chose to add an extra month of Adar. This Sunday is the beginning of Adar Bet, the second month of Adar. We are told Mi'Shenichnas Adar marbim b'simcha (When Adar comes in, one increases his happiness). In our home, my kids would say "Mi’Shenichnas Adar marbim macaroni," their commentary on a mother so busy with exciting Purim preparations that there was no time for making those delicious and nutritious meals.
What I find interesting about that statement – the real one, not my kids' version – is the obligation to be happy. I have written many times about the emotional intelligence of Jewish life and how we experience a cycle of varying emotions throughout our calendar year. This month is about joy, and while it might be tough, with thought and effort, we can be happy!
Why are we happy in the month of Adar? Because on the 14th of Adar (this year on Thursday, March 24th), we celebrate Purim, the Jewish holiday most full of fun. There is a great story line with heroes and villains, delicious treats, lots to drink (for the adults) and mitzvot to ensure that we bond with our friends; remember the poor; and eat, drink, and make merry. What could be better?
The Purim mitzvot provide the structure to focus and enhance our Purim experience. We listen to the Purim story read from the Megillah of Esther. We recall the vast dangers that Jews faced in Persia 2,400 years ago, and throughout much of our history. We are inspired by knowing that G-d is the Hand behind history and we should never despair. We reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves, and to our friends, whom we often take for granted. And then, we finish off the day with a celebratory meal. "They tried to kill us, we overcame, let's eat!"
Most of us shlep our kids to services on Yom Kippur where everyone is serious and even somber. Those who are fasting might be a bit cranky, which all adds up to an experience our children might not put in their top 10 list of childhood highlights. But, if you get them into the fast-paced exuberance of Purim – dressing up in costumes, racing to hear the Megillah, running to deliver mishloach manot, gathering with friends and family for a fun, festive meal, carnivals in synagogues and Jewish community centers – that will add up to amazing memories.
My adult kids, who are now living away from home, still call in during our Purim Seudah (dinner). They often have a funny song to share, or want to hear the one we wrote for our guests. They want to know how many bottles of wine were finished and what's left of the pricey 15-year-old Scotch. They want to share the anecdotes of their Purim day, how they dressed up, who they visited, and the fun they had.
If we want to set the table, so to speak, with delicious, nutritious, fun and fulfilling Judaism, Purim is a great place to start. We plug away for a Passover Seder and hang in for High Holiday services. Let's put some extra effort into making our Purim experience something extraordinary. We will be setting a table that our children will return to again and again.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Adar Bet!!
Lauren Shaps is a JWRP City Leader and a full time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps and they are blessed with five children.