The book of Kohelet reminds us that there is a season for everything and a time for every experience under heaven. Or as Rabbi Yonatan Cash put it even better in the Seventies:
You laugh when it’s time to laugh
Cry when it’s time to cry
Live while it’s time to live
Cause you’ll die when it’s time to die
As the month of Adar begins we remember the well-known saying from the Sages that “When Adar enters – joy increases!” On the surface this means that spring is here and we are bound to be happier, particularly when we anticipate that coming holidays of Purim and Pesach. The lusty month of May cannot be too far off. And it is correct to rejoice as we see the world awake. But the Talmud challenges us to understand the saying from its full context “When Av enters we diminish in joy, and when Adar enters we increase in joy”. Just as there are rules for being sad sometimes, there are rules for being happy. And at this time of the year joy is a mitzvah.
When I was at Penn, every spring the Orthodox community would put signs up all over campus “It’s Adar – Be Happy.” That struck me as a profound message about an essential aspect of Judaism which is we take happiness very seriously. Joy is not a spontaneous feeling which may or may not happen, but something that we put right on the calendar. The bad stuff is going to happen according to its schedule, so we are not going to fail to set aside time for communal expressions of pure happiness. That time is now.
We have a tradition that in the Messianic era all of the festivals save Purim will be discontinued. This is not a unanimous opinion and who knows when we will find out. But I believe there is a deep truth to the teaching in that the seeds of the future of Judaism are nurtured in Purim. We don’t have to choose which holidays to observe – we can say yes to all of them. But if I had to choose between taking my children to Purim or to Rosh Hashanah, I would not miss Purim. If we want to teach our children and the world the joy which overflows from our way of life we will not turn down any chance to put on costumes and dance and sing. We hope to see you at the Megillah readings and Purim Carnival.
It’s Adar – Be Happy!