Burned into my memory is Rosh Chodesh Adar II 5768. As we celebrated the new month in yeshiva, my mother frantically tried to reach me on my cell phone, like countless other mothers, fathers, and relatives who had loved ones in Jerusalem on that night. After what, to her, seemed like an eternity, I cheerfully answered the phone and the voice from the other end of the world was one of panic and worry. It was she, thousands of miles away, who informed me of the heinous attack that occurred about 2.5 miles from where I stood on the porch of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh overlooking the Kotel. What a way to begin the month of Adar, just a few weeks before Purim.
Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha. When the month of Adar comes, we are to increase our simcha. The mantra of the month is to be happier than usual. As Jews, we are charged to do our utmost to live with a sense of happiness every day, not only in Adar. Yet, I’ve struggled with this notion of simcha being increased in Adar. Our monthly motto alone – Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha – does not automatically afford us a life sans tragedy and sadness, in Adar.
The text reads “marbim b’simcha” not only “b’simcha” that we must increase what is already there. In fact, we know that living without simcha is detrimental. In the litany of curses in the tochacha, one klalah is meted out because we did not serve Hashem with happiness. Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh explains that a life without simcha is a significant deficiency. He compares this delusion that one can get by without happiness to someone who lives in a furnished house, yet doesn’t have any hangers for their clothes. Although it’s inconvenient, technically, one can get around this issue by leaving their clothes on chairs and tables rather than leaving them on the floor (there are plenty of people who do have hangers in their homes yet leave the clothes strewn about on tables and chairs nonetheless!). However, this logic is completely false. Lacking simcha would be congruent to lacking a dwelling place altogether! Simcha is the tachlis, the entire essence of an eved Hashem. There are many times throughout the year when we are to have simcha, yet Adar and Purim is the only time when simcha is the etzem of the entire time.
As Jews, we are charged to do our utmost to live with a sense of happiness every day, especially in Adar. Although there are external factors, things in our lives that can “shter” our happiness, somehow we must persevere. Yet, I’ve struggled with this notion of simcha being increased in Adar. Our monthly motto alone – Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha – does not automatically afford us a life sans tragedy and sadness, in Adar. Regular occurrences that evoke sadness aren’t barred from happening during Adar. More recent than the Mercaz HaRav massacre, Jews worldwide will not soon forget the Fogel family, who were attacked on Friday night on the 6th of Adar 5771. Ehud and Rut Fogel and three of their six children were mercilessly slaughtered as they slept. Their daughter who discovered the carnage happened to have not been home at the time of the attack. The two other Fogel children in the home were spared only due to the ruthless terrorists not knowing they were in fact inside the home at that time. The terrorists admitted that had they been privy to that information, those two children would’ve met the same fate.
Those two examples are significant extremes. But how is one to compose themselves b’simcha when they lose their job or a loved one? How do we augment our joy in a month where we may receive bad tidings?
In the letters and writings of the Nesivos Shalom, his wrote in a Purim drasha that on that particular Purim, he was stuck in a hospital room battling an illness. Nevertheless, he wrote, if for some reason the Almighty saw fit that he needed to be holed up in Hadassah on this holiday, that he would be mekabel this yuntif b’simcha. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah) that a navi was able to receive a Divine prophecy if they were b’simcha. Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh asks a troubling question: If the above assertion of the Rambam is correct, how could it be that Yirmiyahu had nevuah while he wrote Megillas Eichah? In order to have written Eichah, Yirmiyahu had to have received prophecy, and somehow he was able to do so with joy as the Beis HaMikdash was being destroyed around him. Yet, according to the Rambam, it would seem that Yirmiyahu would have to had some microscopic amount of happiness (NOT over the destruction of the Temple, but possibly about something else).
An exercise that helps some people get through Adar with more simcha, even if only a miniscule amount more per day, is to take stock of what’s going on around them and write down something that they’re thankful for. Through our prayers and supplication to the Almighty we may try and sway a Divine decree, just as we do in Elul and Tishrei. We may not always receive the desired results of what we hope for, yet we can always alter the way we respond to these bumps in the road, and find kernels of happiness in all that we do.