The Joy of Adar

  • Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig


The famous gemara in Ta'anit (29) informs us: "With the start of Adar, we increase simcha (joy)." How so? Although the Sages spell out for us how to decrease simcha at the beginning of Av, they offer little instruction on how to increase simcha in Adar. This is because it is inappropriate to give one details on how to achieve happiness. Simcha is a general spirit that flows in the soul of every human - an internal feeling that does not deal with details. Rather, it represents an elation and elevation above minutiae. However, happiness does not annul these smaller elements – it rather illuminates them with its radiance, and draws them to lofty heights with it.

Immediately as we enter Adar, the Torah warns us against ignoring the finer details in favor of the seemingly greater ones. The first Torah portion we read in Adar is Teruma: "They shall take for Me an offering" (Shemot 25:2). This parasha is adjacent to the parasha of Mishpatim, in which we read of Bnei Yisrael's lofty exclamation: "All that God has spoken, we will do and obey" (Shemot 24:7). Tanna Devei Eliyahu highlights the juxtaposition of these parshiot: "When Bnei Yisrael declared, 'We will do and obey,' God immediately said to Moshe, 'They shall take for Me and offering.'" What is the connection? The Ba'al Shem Tov explains that when one experiences an inner rousing of his soul, he is obliged to immediately give it practical expression – lest the feeling subside without having left any impression at all. Therefore, the uplifting call of "Na'aseh ve-nishma" is immediately followed by the obligation of the building of the Mishkan and all its vessels, set forth in great detail.

Upon deeper analysis, it appears that these are not two different stages that we must combine. Divine service has the power to illuminate all the elements of reality with a new radiance – even if there is no new substantial act, indeed the old is rejuvenated. Happiness influences all of one's actions, desires and thoughts.

What is the pertinence of this simcha to Adar?

Adar marks the fall and defeat of Haman, the descendant of Amalek. Who is Amalek, and why does the downfall of this Amalekite leave such a mighty impression?

The Torah commands us: "Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt, when they encountered you ('karcha') on the way..." (Devarim 25:17-18). As Rav Amital reminds us, the true nature of Amalek is embodied in the word "karcha," which is etymologically rooted in "mikreh," coincidence. Amalek's war against Bnei Yisrael is not merely a physical struggle, but rather is an ideological conflict. Amalek represents the ideology of "mikreh" - they reject the idea of Divine Providence, and substitute for it the notion that the everything in the world is left to chance.

The Sefat Emet explains the clause, "that which Amalek did to you on the way from Egypt" as follows: "Amalek came to negate and weaken the power of the Exodus from Egypt… so as not to be bound by the Source of miracles." The miracles of the exodus displayed the highest form of revelation of Divine Providence, and it was against this that Amalek waged war.

This war finds expression in a midrash (Tanchuma, Ki Tetzeh 10): "'Va-yezanev bekha,' 'They cut off from you' (Devarim 25:18) - Amalek cut off the mila of their Jewish victims, threw them heavenward and said: In this You chose? Take that which You chose!" Berit Mila is the sign of the holy covenant, the seal of Heaven imprinted in each man of Israel. "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and between you… circumcise every male child… and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and between you" (Bereishit 17:10-11). This marks the constant connection of the People of Israel to their Father in Heaven, and, conversely, God's connection to His people. God's connection to us is primarily expressed through His Providence over us, and it is against this that Amalek wages war. Amalek severs the berit mila and throws it upward, as if to say: "Here is the Providence of God over His nation."

Shabbat similarly marks the connection between God and His people - "Between Me and Bnei Yisrael it is a sign forever" (Shemot 31:17). Therefore, the gemara (Shabbat 118) draws a connection between desecration of Shabbat and the attack of Amalek:

"Had Bnei Yisrael observed the first Shabbat after the giving of the manna, no other nation would have been able to have dominion over them. The verse states: 'And it was on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather [the manna],' and afterwards the Torah states: 'And Amalek came and fought.'"

When Bnei Yisrael desecrate Shabbat, they also damage their connection to God, thereby exposing an opening for Amalek to attempt to challenge the entire relationship between God and His nation.

Since mila and Shabbat represent special signs between God and Israel, they do not apply to other nations. "A gentile who observed Shabbat deserves death" (Sanhedrin 58b), and a non-Jew whose foreskin is removed is still considered halakhically uncircumcised: "All gentiles are uncircumcised" (Yirmiyahu 9:25). Even so, all the nations are destined to return and to recognize God's Divine kingship:

"Let the nations be happy and sing for joy, for You will judge the people with equity and govern the nations upon earth. Let the people praise You, God, let all the people give You thanks." (Tehillim 67:5-6)

Nevertheless, Amalek will continue to fight, despite the other nations' refusal to join him (Mekhilta, Beshalach 17:8). One who fights a war of denial of Divine Providence over creation – he in essence pushes aside the Divine Presence. Therefore, as long as Amalek is in existence – the Throne of Glory is not complete, and on account of this, "[Amalek's] end shall be everlasting perdition" (Bamidbar 24:20).

Nothing has the ability to weaken one's enthusiasm and joy in serving God as much as the denial of God's hashgacha (providence). If one's fate is left to chance, then the entire world seems cold and foreign, and there is no reason to serve God. Therefore, our sages say that the word "karcha" also derives from the root k.r.r., meaning cold (Tanchuma 2, Ki Tetzeh 14). Amalek cooled the fire of enthusiasm that burned in Bnei Yisrael, and injected despair and despondency into their hearts. The Sefat Emet explains:

"Amalek wanted to take away the attribute of eagerness from Bnei Yisrael, as it is written: 'Bnei Yisrael went up "chamushim" from the land of Egypt' (Shemot 13:18) – and Onkelos translates 'chamushim' as 'with eagerness' … And eagerness derives essentially from joy."

Amalek came to negate the happiness and the eagerness in the Jews' service of God.

"Wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens" (Devarim 25:19). We acommanded to wipe out the memory of the "Amalekism" as a part of the specific purpose assigned to Am Yisrael – the revelation of God's glory to the world.

Parashat Zakhor, which commands us to remember Amalek, is read along with Parashat Tetzaveh, which opens with the subject of oil for lighting the menora and concludes with the incense and lamps. The Shem Mi-Shemuel finds an important connection between Zakhor and Tetzaveh. Oil and incense gladden and expand the heart, and this is the remedy for the coldness which Amalek tries to implant in our heart – self-strengthening through happiness which brings about eagerness. Our joy grows in proportion to the degree that we internalize the knowledge that the Creator supervises and guides our lives. Therefore, we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day - "So that you shall remember the day you went out of Egypt, all the days of your life" (Devarim 16:3). This daily remembrance helps us recall that God's Providence is always upon us.

The midrash states that the word "zakhor" (remember) appears with regard to both Amalek and Shabbat because "thtwo are equal" (Tanchuma, Ki Tetzeh 7). One symbolizes God's hashg, and one its denial. Remembering and keeping the Shabbat strengthens the holy covenant between the Almighty and His nation Israel - and this counteracts the effects of Amalek.

"God said [to Israel]: Know that if in the future you do not remember Amalek and do not read about him each year, I will return you to slavery in Egypt." (Pesikta Rabati 12)

If "Amalekism" is not wiped off the face of the earth, and if Divine Providence is still not clear to the whole world, then the unique revelation of God to Bnei Yisrael has in essence been revoked.

In the month of Adar - the eve of Nisan, when the Almighty's miraculous Providence was revealed – another stage was added in the destruction of the seed of Amalek. The obliteration of "Amalekism" was advanced through a hidden miracle (which is in fact superior in its essence to a revealed one - see Maharal's introduction to "Or Chadash"), through Divine intervention in the history of Bnei Yisrael.

Through this hidden intervention, "The Jews had light, and happiness, and joy, and honor" (Esther 8:16). The gemara (Megilla 16b) interprets:

"'Joy' refers to circumcision … 'Honor' ('yekar') refers to tefillin, as it says: 'And all people of the earth shall see that You are called ('nikra') by the name of God, and they shall fear You' (Devarim 28:10), and Rabbi Eliezer the Great said: This refers to the tefillin of the head."

Destruction of Amalek arouses joy, and with it the commandments of circumcision and tefillin. Tefillin is the third sign (together with Shabbat and circumcision) which testifies to all the nations that the name of God rests upon us.

This is the simcha that fills the heart in the month of Adar. This is the inner joy which becomes more intense as the strength of Amalek continues to wane. Joy fills the soul as we recognize that God supervises us directly; He is the one who leads us on all of our journeys. The whole world is brightened by His Divine light. There is a goal and purpose to our existence, and a path that leads us to it, and everything is guided from above. It becomes clear that God fills the world with goodness. It becomes clear that we are in the midst of a process of revealing the good and eliminating the bad, and this awakens in us a strong desire to integrate ourselves into a world which is all good.

Rav Kook writes (Orot Ha-teshuva, Chapter 2):

"In truth, all [of creation] is good and virtuous, and the goodness and integrity in us stems from our conformity with this 'all.' How, then, is it possible to be severed from the 'all,' to be an odd crumb, dissociated like the insignificant dust? It is with this recognition, which is truly Divine recognition, that repentance out of love is realized in the individual and collective spheres."

This form of repentance is the imperative of Adar. Unlike repentance out of fear, repentance out of love does not conquer man's actions, feelings and views in a slow and calm process. Rather, the love is in the nature of a spiritual revolution which comes in great haste, like a sudden flash, and unexpectedly one senses that he is immersed in another world, higher than the one that he had been in before.

This is a basic cleansing of the source of the soul, as opposed to dealing with external manifestations. From the internal purification, everything which proceeds from that same source is also cleansed. This is the purification of the month of Adar, which does not delve into details.

"All repentance out of love reaches that innermost source, from whence all that emanates is good and is retroactively revealed as innocent and honest. Therefore, the misdeeds that are transformed into merits need not be created anew, but rather require merely a revelation of their source." (Orot Ha-Teshuva 11:6)

This return out of love, which stems from the annihilation of Amalek, also returns reflexively to assist in the destruction of "Amalekism." "All the while that Israel were looking upwards, and were subjugating their hearts to their Father in Heaven – they were triumphant" (Rosh Hashana 29a). "When [each Jew] repents, he weakens the power of Amalek… It follows that besides fulfilling the mitzva of repentance, he also fulfills the mitzva of wiping out Amalek" (Avnei Shoham, Ki Tetzeh).

Our Sages decreed that parashat Zakhor was to be read on the Shabbat closest to Purim and not on Purim itself. Shabbat symbolizes return out of love. The psalm of Shabbat (#92) is the same one which Adam sang when he heard of the power of repentance (Bereishit Rabba 22:28).

On Shabbat, we return to God. This has the power to strengthen and secure the covenant "between Me and between Bnei Yisrael," and to reveal the glory and providence of God in His world. The Zohar (Shemot 23) says that Shabbat brings peace to the upper and lower worlds, and on Shabbat the name of God is completed, "because God's name is Shalom" (Vayikra Rabba 9:9).

(Translated by Sholem and Rochie Hurwitz)