Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Jew & A – Adar!

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On January 12, 2010
At 2:15 am
Comments : 5

That exclamation point is important. Don’t say Adar, say Adar! Adar is the sixth month of the Jewish year (or the twelfth if you’re counting from Nissan, when Passover is… we have lots of New Years). Adar as you’ll recall, is the month that has Purim, the festival of treats. This is not its technical name. OK, this is just the name I personally give it. Why would you recall this and from where? Why, right here! A while back anyway. To quote myself:

Hey! It’s a special month on the Jewish calendar and that month is called Adar. It’s awesome and special because you’re commanded to be happy the whole month. Yes, indeed, doomed to happiness for four plus weeks. The happiness thing is because Adar is the month with Purim, one of those holidays where the Jews were saved from certain death (well, almost certain, obviously) and that’s a giant excuse for a party. Tomorrow night begins Purim, the holiday where you give gifts of baked goods to your friends and it’s a mitzvah to get bombed off your ass. That might not be the exact language the Talmud uses, but that’s really the rule.

My Mom was a Jewish educator, as I’ve stated many times here, and she liked to wear a giant button on her coat at this time of year that embarrassed me beyond the limits of teenage humiliation. It said, “Be happy! It’s Adar!” in Hebrew and English. Oh Mom! When I was in college, my grandma died during that month and after that, it was terribly hard for my Mom to be happy then but she wore the big green button anyway. Sometimes commandments are hard. After she died, we found that my Mom had like ten of these buttons. Ha! I kept one but, you know, I don’t actually walk down the street with the thing on my coat.

Too cool. You know what’s even more cool? Someone wrote me based on this post and asked:

Hi! My son’s bar mitzvah is coming up (soon!!) on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and so “Be Happy, It’s Adar!” will be the theme. We’re thinking of giving out Adar/Purim kits containing a gragger, tzedakah box, bag for shalach manot, etc. I’d like to look into including a “Be Happy, It’s Adar!” button, though we might have to have them made up, as I don’t see any being sold online. Can you tell me more about what your mom’s button looked like, or what the Hebrew wording was? A photo would be really helpful, but anything you can tell me would be really appreciated!

JM Could there be a better theme than this? In a world of Star Trek and Twilight themes, Kudos upon kudos. In case you had not surmised from this letter, it’s not yet Adar but it’s fast coming down the pike. So I went digging down into the mildewed basement to my storage space and between the little ceramic challah I made my Mom for Mother’s Day and her check cashing card to Seven Mile Market (come on, I had to save that) was the button. It’s nothing special, I have to say. But what struck me was the Hebrew on it which says, “Mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simchah.” This does not literally mean “Be happy, it’s Adar.” It means, “When Adar begins, we increase in happiness.” So this made me wonder where this statement comes from and how it got translated into some kind of forceful command. Do it! Be happy!

Turns out it’s from a section of the Talmud called Ta’anit and it’s the second half of a statement which begins by talking about the saddest month of the Jewish calendar, Av. That’s the one where so many tragedies befell the Jewish people including the destruction of both Temples as well as the expulsion from Spain. Bear with me here, because I do not have the complete Talmud in my home and didn’t have time to run over to the Beit Hamidrash (house of study, but in this case, a room in my synagogue with lots o’holy books).

But supposedly, it goes like this. “Rav Yehuda the son of Shmuel the son of Shilat says in the name of Rav: Just as one is required to minimize happiness when the month of Av begins, so too when the month of Adar begins, we increase happiness.” (T.B. Ta’anit 29a)

And so, I’m really glad that I got asked this question so I could learn this. It makes it even more appropriate that my mother was able to get over her sadness to rejoice in Adar, because that’s apparently what it’s actually about, the time to be happy as opposed to the time to be sad. And maybe sad is the wrong word because it doesn’t say that; it says, “minimize” your happiness. Maybe that’s because we’re essentially a happy people. We don’t really need to be told to be happy, just when to lessen our happiness and when to increase it. Or maybe that’s the way it used to be and nowadays, we’re all too stressed and worried and we really do need that reminder, because happiness is not just a good thing, it’s required. So be happy, it’s Adar! (soon!)

Since a Bar Mitzvah exemplifies the future of the Jewish people, it is even more appropriate that it be held in Adar which is the flip side of Av, the month of destruction. I hope that your son’s Bar Mitzvah is a time of great joy for you, JM, and that through him you increase the happiness of all around you.

And, well, I hope you find a slightly more attractive button than this one. Mazal tov!


5 Comments for this post

sarpon says

This button gave me a Bobby McFerrin earworm. If it did play that song it would probably be better suited to Av, though.

JM says

Many thanks for following up–not only showing the button but commenting on it! We’ve started designing a button that’s substantially similar (same wording in Hebrew and in English as yours), though I agree, the English definitely needs an exclamation point! And some cheery graphics might be nice as well.

Your discussion of the requirement to be happy reminds me of the song, “v’samachta b’chagecha, v’hayyitah ach sameach” (you shall rejoice in your holidays, and you shall be so happy), which is apparently from Devarim 16:14-15. Of course we are also commanded to love Hashem in the V’ahavta, so I guess Judaism regards states of mind as commandable, and willing oneself to have a positive state of mind as commendable!

Meanwhile, we are just back from a funeral which my son insisted on attending with us (6 hours’ drive each way). He’s been so mature about observing this family loss (an elderly but beloved uncle of mine–great-uncle to him), I think he’s already earned his Adar joy.

Again, thanks.


Becca says

Sarp, do not go there! you will transmit said earworm to me.

JM, so true! And I do think a happy state of mind can be willed, although it can really hard sometimes.

Baruch dayan emet on your loss and agreed, your son sounds like a gem.

Alex says

Becca, you forgot to list “Mardi Gras” among common but spectacularly inappropriate party themes.

JM, I second everything Becca said about your son and your simcha.

Becca says

I think that list is too long for my post containers.