“When Adar arrives, we increase in joy”.
// Taanis 29a
Why specifically in Adar are we being instructed to increase our joy? What does it mean to increase joy? If we are happy, then we are happy. Can anyone simply choose to be happier?
The Hebrew name Adar is related to the word “adir,” which means strength and power. This indicates that in Adar, we have a special strength that we do not have access to in other months. We know that Moshe Rabbeinu was born and died in the month of Adar. Chazal teach us that Haman was excited that his lottery fell out in Adar because he knew that it was the month when Jews would have the mazal of Moshe Rabbeinu’s death. What he did not know was that it was also the month when Moshe was born. How is it that Haman knew when Moshe died but did not know the date of his birth? Haman thought this was a month of weakness when it is, in fact, as the name Adar suggests, a month of increased strength and power. Furthermore, why is it that this month we are gifted with an increase in strength and power?
The Gemara tells us (Pesachim 110a), “Melech poretz geder — a king may break down fences to make a path.” The king is given the power to break through the boundaries of private property as a shortcut on the way to his destination. Halacha reflects reality. By learning the inner essence of a halacha we develop a Godly worldview. A King can break down barriers because the King represents Hashem. Hashem, our infinite King, has no boundaries or limitations. There is no “private property” in this world, and He can traverse wherever he wishes.
עָלָ֚ה הַפֹּרֵץ֙ לִפְנֵיהֶ֔ם פָּֽרְצוּ֙ וַיַּֽעֲבֹ֔רוּ שַׁ֖עַר וַיֵּ֣צְאוּ ב֑וֹ וַיַּֽעֲבֹ֚ר מַלְכָּם֙ לִפְנֵיהֶ֔ם וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה בְּרֹאשָֽׁם
The breaker has gone up before them; they broke and passed through a gate and went out through it; and their king passed before them, and Hashem was at their head. (Micah 2:13)
Mashiach is referred to as a poretz, a boundary breaker. In fact, Mashiach is descended from Peretz, which also indicates the breaking of a boundary. Mashiach, emulating Hashem’s ways, will break the boundaries of this physical world and usher us into the World to Come. And if Hashem is a poretz and Mashiach is a poretz then we too must become people who break down boundaries. How can we do this?
The Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) paraphrased the aforementioned Gemara and said: “simcha poretz geder”—joy breaks through boundaries.”
There is a fundamental difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is temporary. It is based on a particular condition. When we receive a gift, we are happy. When we suffer a loss, we are sad. Joy is everlasting. It is not based on any particular condition. Joy comes from having a worldview of faith. It is the deep knowledge that Hashem runs the world and that all is going according to plan. Regardless of what happens to us, we can remain in a state of joy. This does not mean that the joyful person cannot also be sad. Of course, one who suffers a tragic loss is called upon to mourn. To feel exceptional pain and remain in a state of joy is not a contradiction. In fact, it is the inner state of joy that allows us to feel exceptionally painful feelings without losing ourselves to those feelings.
Put differently, if we consider joy as an expression of faith in Hashem’s plan, then joy is the ultimate act of submission. Joy is lost when we attempt to be in control. Life will not always go the way we want it to. If it were up to us, we would all have wealth, the perfect shidduch, well-behaved children, etc… Life does not work this way. Faced with this reality, we have two choices, submit ourselves to Hashem’s plan and live with a deep state of joy or try to control that which is uncontrollable and abandon joy. (As found in the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.) One who submits to the will of Hashem and lives with a state of inner joy has broken through the boundaries of this finite world. In the finite world, we can become depressed by the lack of wealth, the struggles of marriage, and the challenges of raising children. One who has totally submitted themselves to the will of Hashem is no longer constrained by the finite boundaries of our world. Everything is exactly as it should be. This is what it means to be a poretz, one who breaks down boundaries.
This middah of submission ushers in the era of Mashiach. The world proclaims, “I am. I exist.” Our ego tells us that we exist independently from Hashem. Our Godly soul echoes the words of Avraham Avinu, who said, “I am but dust and ashes,” and Moshe Rabbeinu, who said, “What are we?” To make this world a dwelling place for Hashem, we must invite Hashem into our lives. Hashem is welcomed into our lives when we make space for Him. As long as we arrogantly proclaim our independent existence, there is no space for Hashem. By submitting ourselves to Hashem’s plan, and by living a joyful life, we create space for Hashem in this world. This is the process through which we bring Mashiach.
אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר, הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ
Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. (Avos 4:1)
True strength is not dominance over another but dominance over ourselves. Seen through this lens, Adar means the strength (adir) that comes from increasing our Emunah in Hashem’s plan, leaving the finite world of our own ego, and living with the true joy that brings Mashiach. Chazal cannot instruct us to increase our happiness because, as we already stated, happiness is conditional. Joy, however, is something that we can consciously increase; it requires becoming more God-conscious and submitting ourselves to His plan.
Haman as the paradigmatic Amalekite lived in a finite world of boundaries. It is natural that he focused on Moshe Rabbeinu’s death and not his birth. Everything finite eventually dies. When the lottery fell out in the month of Adar, Haman naturally thought of it as the time when Moshe died. In contrast, birth involves the boundaryless infinite. A child comes into this world from beyond this world. For us, Adar is not the month where Moshe dies but the month when he was born. No wonder the zodiac of Adar is the fish that represents fertility and fruitful blessings. It is readily understandable that we are instructed to increase our joy in the month of Adar. Adar is a time when we are called upon to live in an infinite fashion. We break down the boundaries by increasing our joy, and submitting our will to the will of the Almighty.
The word Adar can also be understood as aleph dar, the time when Hashem, the alupho shel olam, is brought to dar, to dwell in this world. This is our Jewish mission. To build for Hashem a dwelling place in our world. As we enter into this time period, may we be blessed with an increased awareness of Hashem in our lives, an increased submission to the will of Hashem, and an increase in joy as we invite the Alupho Shel Olam to dwell in our world.