By Yitzhak Bronstein, Regional Jewish Educator
With Chanukah and the winter solstice already several weeks behind us, we are slowly transitioning into a new season with the promise of more light and longer days. Fittingly, we will soon be celebrating Purim—the most playful celebration in the Jewish calendar. In fact, the Talmud describes not just the day of Purim as a happy day, but the entire month of Adar. “When [the month of] Adar enters, we increase our joy (Talmud Bavli Ta’anit 29a).
At first glance, this line in the Talmud might sound a bit odd. Are we really able to choose the experience of joy? What does the Talmud mean by instructing us to “increase our joy”? Yet, this isn’t something unique to Purim or the month of Adar. The Torah instructs us elsewhere to feel joy. In the context of the festivals, for example, the Torah tell us v’samachta b’chagecha— “you should rejoice in your festivals.”
But there is a key distinction when it comes to the joy of Adar and Purim. Whereas the rabbis go to great lengths to establish parameters around joy on other festivals (and providing us with many specific instructions), there is no parallel discussion when it comes to the joy of Adar. In other words, the Talmud instructs us to “increase our joy” during these weeks, but it does not give any specific instructions about how to go about doing so. The question is why—why doesn’t the Talmud spell out how to increase joy during this time?
One answer I’ve heard to this question is that the rejoicing of this time of year is intended to be personal. Since the whole essence of these weeks is to feel a deeper sense of joy in life, the Talmud abstains from prescribing how to be joyful. The whole point is for us to engage in joyful practices in a way that truly speaks to our individual selves. Therefore, the Talmud leaves it open-ended and does not offer specific instructions. The takeaway is as follows: we know ourselves best, and so we are the ones best equipped to help ourselves feel joy during this festive month.
To prepare for any programs you will host, either related to the holiday of Purim or during this month, here are some questions you can use to reflect on individually, as a house, or at a program with your community.
Finding Personal Joy in Adar: A Discussion Guide
As written above, the Talmud instructs us to increase our joy during this time of the year.
- What brings you joy in your life already?
- What are concrete ways of bringing more joy into your life this month?
- What has been holding you back from a feeling a deeply felt sense of joy?
Expanding joy to a wider sphere of people in your community:
- Who in your life is most in need of re-connecting with the experience of joy?
- What are concrete things you can do to help that person experience joy?
- What are ways you can you can help share joy to more than one person at a time?
- How you spend your time currently? Are you spending your time on what you value most?
- How will you ensure that the joy you experience this month is not a passing phase, but becomes part of your lived day-to-day experience?