This Week in Torah
Shabbat Terumah, Rosh Hodesh Adar I, 5774
Exodus 25:1-27:19, Numbers 28:9-15
Akiva Nof’s prize winning song “Sisu et Yerushalem” (Rejoice with Jerusalem) came to public attention in 1971 and today is on the websites of every stream in Jewish life, not to mention the playlists of bat/bar mitzvah DJs. Inspired by our haftarah (Isaiah 66:10), it invites celebration even though ‘guards’ are still needed and enemies are yet to be ‘scattered.’ Nof, later a Member of the Knesset, delivered a dual message: be happy and be realistic.
We are reading Isaiah 66 because this Shabbat is also Rosh Hodesh – beginning of the month of Adar or, to be precise, Adar I. As 5774 is a leap year, Purim is postponed to Adar II, the calendar will realign with the seasons, Passover and Shavuot will seem ‘late.’ The confluence of Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh for the first of this year’s two Adars raises a question.
The Talmud says; “…mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simchah…” (“…when Adar enters rejoicing increases…”). But, is it time to be happy? In a regular year the Talmud’s statement makes sense. When the one Adar arrives winter is half over, Purim and Passover are just around the corner. This year we might legitimately worry about premature celebration bringing on the Evil Eye – It’s only Adar I maybe we should wait before throwing a party?
This concern is unfounded, and contradicts the Talmud, which neither prescribes nor predicts unbridled happiness nor condemns us to unmitigated despair. Our Rabbis teach that the happiness of Adar and the sadness of Av are linked. They equate the celebratory entry of Adar with the beginning of Av, the deepest period of mourning the loss of our sovereignty. (Ta’anit 29a-b) We must mourn so that we can savor moments of joy. We have to celebrate if we are to survive sadness. Rav Aha says: “All who mourn for her (Jerusalem) see her rejoicing but those who do not mourn do not see her rejoicing.” (Sheiltot Ki Tavo 158). At the beginning of Adar Moses was glad to ascend Mt. Nebo and see the Promised Land. At the same time, it became clear that he would not enter it. (Eisenstein, Otzar Midrashim pg 378 & Megillah 13b). No celebration comes without sadness; no disappointment is devoid of hope.
Can we be happy yet? Of course! We have many blessings to celebrate. Should we worry? Yes, that too, for such is the nature and reality of Jewish life! We mourn when we must and rejoice whenever we can. Ten years after Nof’s hit song, Naomi Shemer wrote: we accept “All These Things, the honey and the sting’. Happy Adars!
Rabbi Steve Denker
This week Rabbi Denker’s message was also printed in the Cleveland Jewish News.