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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Essence of Purim

“When Adar begins, we should heighten our joy.”

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The Gemara in Ta’anit 29. states:

"Just as we diminish our joy at the start of Av – when Adar begins we should heighten our joy…."

Rashi explains:

"When Adar begins – these were miraculous days for Am Yisrael: Purim and Pesach." In other words, the joy of the month of Adar is a result of the days of redemption which begin at that time. And from here we further learn that the simcha of Purim is not limited to the actual days of the holiday, but rather to the entire month of Adar. The source is found within the Megilla itself: "The month which was overturned from despair to joy, from mourning to holiday." (Esther 9, 22)

The Meaning of Simcha in the Month of Adar

The Gemara (ibid 29:) outlines various precepts reflecting acts of diminished joy in the month of Av. On the other hand, the Gemara does not suggest in what ways we should express greater joy in the month of Adar. The Munkatcher Rebbe (Nimukei Orach Chaim) explains why the Gemara does not provide details of the practical ways to express joy:

"Simcha is a commandment from the Torah. It is written ‘For you did not worship the Lord your G-d with simcha". Therefore, we are clearly forbidden to become immersed in sadness. This is the rationale for detailing the specific ways that we are to diminish simcha when the month of Av begins – in order to exclude other behaviors, where simcha must be reinforced and faith in G-d is strengthened while we look forward to salvation and redemption.

However, when Adar begins we should heighten our simcha, in general, since it is such a positive trait. Any way that one can express heightened simcha constitutes a mitzvah, according to each individual’s inclinations. And detailed behaviors of simcha are not mentioned in order not to exclude other actions and to mistakenly suggest that only the specified means of simcha are legitimate. Thus we learn that the mitzvah of simcha is expressed in any way one’s heart desires when it is a true "simcha for the sake of a mitzvah". In other words, the reason the Gemara did not cite the specific means of simcha in the month of Adar is that our Sages did not want to limit it in any way. Rather, they wanted the simcha to accompany all the month’s events and activities.

Simcha is also the hallmark of the Jewish holidays – "v’samachta b’chagecha". However, our Sages taught us specific definitions of simcha at these times of the year, such as eating meat and drinking wine and the like. On Purim we also have practical definitions for the mitzvah (such as the Purim seudah or feast), although it seems there is a mitzvah for simcha, in general. These definitions assure us that there will indeed be simcha, while uniting the Jewish people around the simcha, since Jews everywhere share in the same joyous activities. However, during the rest of the month of Adar there are no practical definitions. On the one hand, our Sages did not wish to define specific actions for the duration of an entire months. On the other hand, as stated, there is an aspect of the spontaneity of simcha which renders it more personal and, at times, uniquely uplifting.

From this unique synthesis one can learn that spontaneous, personal joy is most significant, and at the same time, there is significance to a more clearly defined joy, whose definitions are shared by the public at large. During the month of Adar, we experience a more personal, spontaneous form of simcha, but at the mid-point of the month, we experience a clearly defined, common simcha. This teaches us and reminds us that the joy is a "simcha of Hashem". It is a joy of the spirit, not of hedonism. It is, indeed, a simcha with a personal side to it, but one must remain aware that his strength, and his very essence, absorbs the influences of Klal Yisrael.
More on the topic of The Essence of Purim

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