Today is an unusual Jewish day and the beginning of a very special Jewish month – the month known as Adar 1. Seven times in a 19-year cycle, the Jewish calendar contains 13 months instead of the regular 12. This Jewish leap year is designed to ensure that the lunar-based Jewish year remains aligned with the solar seasons (12 lunar months make up 354 days — about 11 days short of the 365.25 day solar cycle). If the month of Adar I was not added, we would wind up celebrating Passover – Judaism’s Spring holiday – in the winter.
What I love about the Jewish leap year is that the month we double is the month of Adar. Adar II falls right after Adar I during the leap year (Adar II begins on March 3 this year). During a regular year, there is only one Adar. The rabbis of the Talmud teach that when Adar begins, simcha (joy) increases. 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, 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.
This year – we get two joyful, auspicious months! Purim falls during Adar II (March 16th – SAVE THE DATE!!!). So Adar I gives us lots of time to get get into a Purim state of mind.
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, 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?
Unfortunately, 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. “High Holiday Jews” – those for whom Jewish life is all about Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur – focus on the intense, often gut-wrenching aspects of Judaism. Granted, these are important aspects of our tradition to which we need to pay attention – but, I am committed to turning “High Holiday Jews” into “Adar Jews”, Jews who focus on intense joy, side-splitting laughter, great food and drink, and celebrating Jewish pride with friends and family. I don’t want folks to ignore the serious side of our tradition, but I know that 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.
This year, we get two Adars – two months to pay attention to the joy that is out there. And it is out there – if you look for it. Can you hear the laughter? If not, listen harder. Seek it out. You deserve two months of pure, unadulterated happiness. Go find it!