The Jewish month of Adar began earlier this week! This means that Purim is just days away and, therefore, it is time to be surrounded by joy. Can’t you feel it!?
The rabbis of the Talmud teach that when Adar begins, simcha (joy) increases. Obviously, the highlight of the month is Purim, the day on which we celebrate our ancestors’ ability to stop Haman from annihilating them. But, the rabbis explain that the joy associated with Adar is not limited to Purim alone. We are taught that the entire month is filled with simcha because Adar is the month during which the Jewish people actively changed their destiny ˆ transforming what seemed like their inevitable destruction at the hands of Haman into a celebration of life and Jewish power. Given the fortunate events of Adar, the rabbis teach us that this month is an auspicious time for our people. We are encouraged to schedule challenging events like court cases and medical procedures during Adar so that the “luck” associated with the month rubs off and benefits us.
Unfortunately, the joy of Adar does not rub off that easily. You have to know about the joy of Adar in order to appreciate it. You need to be around the joy in order to feel it. You have to be drawn into it in order to truly live it. Once you do appreciate it, feel it, live it, the joy is contagious. I can’t guarantee that it will be as “auspicious” as the rabbis say it is ˆ but I can guarantee that the joy of Adar will make you happy. And in this day and age, why turn down something that makes you smile?
The fact is, most Jews do turn the joy of Adar down. This is because while being written in the “Book of Life” during the High Holidays is something most Jews pay close attention to, the joy of Adar is not on most Jews’ radar screens. Purim is seen by most Jews as a holiday that rabbis, cantors and other “geeky” synagogue-going types get into. As a result, for most Jews, the joy thing kind of goes out the window.
Listen closely. Can you hear it? All that Jewish joy flying out of windows all over the place as Purim gets closer? We, the “geeky” synagogue-going types, we can hear it loud and clear. And we know that the joy we hear crashing to the ground was supposed to belong to those Jews we call “High Holiday Jews”, Jews who come to the synagogue only on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. How do you know if someone is a “High Holiday Jew”? Simple: ask him or her to describe Judaism in three words. While I can’t predict the exact words a “High Holiday Jew” will use, I guarantee you that they will be words having to do with guilt, formality, solemnity, repentance, and/or sin. In addition, I am certain that at least one of their three words will capture the extensive length of High Holiday services. To be honest, I probably would not disagree with the descriptive words of the “High Holiday Jew”. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are very ! intense, serious, reflective holy days that make us explore our shortcomings and weaknesses. Plus ˆ on Yom Kippur, we can’t eat! Oy!
If I didn’t do what I do for a living, I would probably become an active “Adar Jew” ˆ one who comes to synagogue only during the month of Adar. To me, being an “Adar Jew” makes a lot of sense ˆ a whole heck of a lot more sense than being a “High Holiday Jew”! Adar is a fun month filled with laughter, happiness, drink, food, costumes, and celebration. This is the type of stuff that would bring me back year after year. Now, I must admit, I’ve never met an “Adar Jew”. I have, however, met my fair share of “High Holiday Jews” ˆ people who choose to hang out in synagogues for the longest most intense services of the year. What does this say about our people? Do we like the depressing, gut wrenching holidays that leave us feeling guilty?
As someone who is committed to insuring the survival of Judaism, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, the key to our survival lies in turning “High Holiday Jews” on to things like intense joy, side-splitting laughter, great food and drink, and celebrating Jewish pride with friends and family. By focusing solely upon the intense themes of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we run the risk of denying ourselves so many of the uplifting, celebratory, carefree, lighthearted, and pleasurable aspects of our tradition. Why do this to ourselves? What good does this do us? As I said back on Rosh HaShanah, we need to dance, sing, and be happy. This is what will make us spiritually, physically, and mentally balanced.
Here at Ramat Shalom, Purim festivities start at 7:00PM next Saturday (the 27th) evening with our “Pasta and Pesto Pre-Purim Party and Dinner” (RSVP REQUIRED) followed by our 8:00PM Purim Shpiel (a bawdy, PG-13 Purim spoof starring yours truly, Cantor, Ms. Marney and Ms Beth) and our Megillah Reading (BABYSITTING OFFERED W/RSVP). On Sunday from 10AM-1PM our annual Purim Carnival will take place (OPENING CERMONIES @ 10AM). If you are a “High Holiday Jew” do yourself a favor, come and experience the other side of Judaism – if not at Ramat Shalom – at a synagogue near you. What’s the worst thing that happens? You actually enjoy yourself? You laugh in the synagogue? Chas v’cholileh! You’ll survive and you’ll be better off because of it.