(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)
This article will be something of a mixed-media piece. It’ll start with a “Purim Torah,” move on to more serious “Kabbalah” stuff, and conclude with an inspiring Chassidic teaching.
(A “Purim Torah” is what Torah scholars do for fun on Purim: a short exposition that sounds and feels like a typical piece of Talmud, yet is either patently absurd or just skewered enough to be taken seriously on Purim.)
First, the Purim Torah:
Question: We read in the Book of Esther how Hamandesired “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, from young to old, infants and woman, in a single day — on the 13th of the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar” (Esther 3:13). But why was it so important to Haman that his evil decree be carried out “in a single day”? Would such a thing even have been logistically possible? Indeed, Haman initially cast lots to determine which month should be chosen as the time for the genocide of the Jews.1 Our sages tell us that when the lot fell on the month of Adar, Haman rejoiced: this was the month in which Moses had died (on Adar 7), surely a month that bodes ill for the Jews.2 Having hit on an apparently auspicious month for his plans, why did Haman continue with his lot-throwing to pinpoint a particular day?
Answer: Haman was a keen student of Jewish history. He knew that the Jewish calendar is dotted with festivals celebrating the Jewish people’s salvation from an enemy who sought to destroy them. What if — Haman worried — their G‑d saves them again? If I designate the month of Adar for their destruction, they’ll celebrate all month long!
Finale: In this, too, Haman’s plan was foiled. When Mordechai and Esther institutionalized the celebration of the Purim miracle, they ordained not only the Purim observances of Adar 14 and 15, but also the commemoration of “the month that was transformed for them from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity” (Esther 9:22). Hence the Talmudic ruling, “when the month of Adar enters, increase in joy” (Talmud, Taanit 26b).
Now for the Kabbalah:
There are two ways in which the Jewish Calendar, and the nature of Jewish time, can be understood:
a) The “Special Days” Approach: The annual cycle consists of hundreds of days, most of which are of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill variety. Thankfully, these are punctuated by a number of special days — festivals and holy days imbued with special spiritual qualities. We trudge through the ordinary days, inspired and encouraged by the fact that we’re never more than a few weeks away from a Passover or Purim, or — at the very least — a Lag BaOmer or a “New Year for Trees.”
b) The “Quality of the Month” Approach: Jewish time is comprised not of days but of months, each possessing a distinct spiritual essence. The “special” days of the year are simply days on which the particular month’s quality is more pronounced and actualized. Thus, Nissan is the “Month of Liberation,” while Passover (observed on Nissan 15 to 22) is a week-long period in Nissan during which the month’s freedom-quality is more accessible. Similarly, Sivan is the month of Wisdom, Shevat is the month of Growth and Fruitfulness, Elul is the month of Compassion, and so on. Each month has days in which the month’s quality rises to the surface and manifests itself more than on the month’s “ordinary” days; but these are differences of expression rather than of essence — essentially, each day of the month equally possesses the month’s unique spiritual properties. This is why many of the festivals and special dates of the Jewish calendar occur on the 15th of the month — the night of the full moon, representing the point at which the month’s essence is in its most revealed and luminous state.3
Adar is the month of Transformation. Adar transforms sorrow into joy, doubt into supra-knowledge, oblivion into exuberant being. Adar transforms a “scattered people” into a unified nation, and a moment of national weakness (when the Jewish people participated in Achashverosh‘s feast in the belief that allegiance to a mortal king will ensure their survival) into the greatest statement of Jewish commitment of all time (when for an entire year every single Jew remained faithful to his/her people and G‑d, even as a decree of annihilation hung over the head of every Jew in the world). Adar transforms the most physical of activities — eating and drinking — into an affirmation of our bond with G‑d.
So while two days in Adar — the 14th and the 15th of the month — are observed as “Purim,” these represent the apex of an entire month of joyous transformation and transformative joy.
Finally, here’s the inspiring chassidic thought we promised:
A month on the Jewish calendar includes either 29 or 30 days (reflecting the 29.5-day lunar cycle). But every two or three years — seven times in a 19-year cycle, to be exact — Adar doubles in size: on these “pregnant years,” as they’re called, there’s a 30-day “Adar I” followed by a 29-day “Adar II.” In addition, 30th of Shevat is also the first of Adar I’s Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”) days. This makes for a total of 60 “Adar days.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the number “60” represents the power of transformation. A rule-of-thumb in Torah law is the “nullified by sixty” principle. For example, if a piece of non-kosher food accidentally falls into a pot of kosher food, the undesirable element is “nullified” if the desirable element is sixty times greater than it.
Thus, the Rebbe concludes, in a year blessed with a double, 60-day Adar, all undesirable elements — every and any cause for pain, sadness, discouragement or dejection — are nullified and sublimated by the transformative joy of Adar.