As the month of Adar has arrived, we address this week the famous statement of Chazal: “When Adar enters, we increase [our] joy” (Taanis 29a).
The teaching of our Sages reflects a special property of the month of Adar – joy – which is present from the outset, and which defines the entire month. Yet Chazal do not explain what the nature of this joy is: Why it is present and how it should be expressed.
In the present article we will seek to understand the nature of the joy of Adar. Are there clear-cut boundaries for the joy of Adar, or is there no specific instruction that emerges from the general definition? What is the reason for the joy of Adar, and how is this month different from all other months?
The Months of Av and Adar
The Mishnah (Taanis 4:6) teaches that when the month of Av commences, we minimize [our] joy. Commenting on the teaching, the Gemara (Taanis 29a) cites the following statement, in the name of Rav: “Just as when the month of Av enters we minimize our joy, so too when the month of Adar enters we increase our joy.”
The Gemara mentions a practical ramification of the difference between the months. Whereas somebody who must go to court in a dispute with a non-Jew should avoid doing so in the month of Av, he is encouraged to do so in the month of Adar. The mazal of Av is bad, whereas that of Adar is good.
Augmenting joy in Adar is thus parallel to diminishing joy in Av. Av is a month of hardship and strife, and it is therefore advisable to limit activities that involve a risk of danger or loss. Adar is a month of joy and prosperity, and therefore it is an opportune time to schedule activities we fear to engage in during Av.
What is Special about Adar?
Rashi (ibid.) explains that we augment our joy in Adar because “they are days of miracles for Israel: Purim and Pesach.” The mention of both Purim and Pesach leads the Eliyah Rabbah (685:5) to write that the obligation of increasing our joy applies not only to the month of Adar, but also to the subsequent month of Nisan – Adar on account of Purim, and Nisan on account of Pesach.
Yet, the simple understanding of the Gemara is that the only time to increase joy is the month of Adar. Moreover, Rav Tzadok HaKohen (Resisei Lailah no. 53) notes according to the logic given there should seemingly be room to augment joy in other months of the year: in Sivan for Shavuos, and in Tishrei for Sukkos. Why is Adar singled out for joy?
These questions are answered by an alternative interpretation of the words of Rashi, as suggested by Rav Yaakov Emden (She’elas Yaavatz 2:88), that the choice of Adar (and Adar alone, in contrast to the Eliyah Rabbah’s understanding) as the month of joy is due to the consecutive festivals of Purim and Pesach. He adds that for this reason, in a leap year the joy of Adar applies only to the second of the two Adar months, because it is the month that leads into Nisan.
According to this interpretation, only Adar – and not Nisan, Sivan, or Tishrei – is given the special status of joy, since it opens the sequence of two miraculous days and surrounding periods, Purim and Pesach.
It is noteworthy to mention a third suggested rationale behind the joy of Adar, which is suggested by the Sefas Emes (ibid). In a departure from the explanation given by Rashi, the Sefas Emes explains that just as the anguish of Av relates to the destruction of the Temple, so the joy of Adar is on account of our recalling the glory of the Temple.
While the Temple stood, the annual donation towards the Temple service was made in Adar. Even during the period of destruction, we recall the avodah of the Mikdash by reading Parashas Shekalim. As the month when the concept of the Temple service is recalled, Adar brings us the joy that we lack during the month of Av.
There is no Mazal for Israel
The halachic ramification mentioned in the Gemara for the months of Av and Adar, namely, that one should avoid entering into a dispute with a non-Jew during Av and should rather fix the time for the dispute in Adar, raises a question.
How can the Gemara state that Adar is a fortuitous time whereas Av is not? Surely we know (Shabbos 156a), “There is no mazal (fortune) for Israel”?
The Ritva (Taanis 29a), who raises the question, answers that the meaning of the statement that there is no mazal for Israel is that there is no gezeira (decree) concerning Israel (see also Tosafos, Shabbos 156a). This means that that the idea of determinism, whereby all that happens is predetermined by fate, does not apply to Israel.
There remains, however, a degree of mazal, and different months of the year have different significance for the nation: The month of Adar is a fortuitous time, and the month of Av is not.
Alternatively, the Ritva suggests that although in general there is no mazal for Israel, the months of Av and Adar are exceptions.
The question can also be answered based on Rashi’s interpretation of “there is no mazal for Israel,” which is: “By means of prayer and merit, his fortune can change for the better.” Based on this interpretation, there is fortune for Israel, but we are able to reverse our fortune through prayer and merit.
Although fortunes can be reversed, the advice of Chazal to avoid conflict and danger in Av and to reserve such matters for Adar, thus poses no contradiction to the principle. [For another explanation of the matter, see Maharsha, Taanis.]
The Prohibition of Divination
Another question that is raised by poskim is divination: Is reserving one’s court cases for Adar not a case of divination, which is prohibited as nichush?
The Maharil (Chadashos 92) writes that there is a distinction between the concept of nichush, divination, and siman tov, a ‘good sign’: Although divination is forbidden, we find in the Gemara (Chulin 95b) that various matters can be interpreted as a good sign (a fortuitous time for something and not a prediction of the future), and this does not involve the transgression of divination.
Based on this principle, the Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 160) explains why Rashi mentions both Purim and Pesach in explaining the special nature of the month of Adar. In the Gemara that mentions a number of good omens, we find that it is permitted to rely on omens when they have been verified as being true. The Chasam Sofer thus explains:
“Therefore Rashi explains, ‘They are days of miracles for Israel, Purim and Pesach[…].’ Even though there is no mazal among Israel, Chazal write that although divination is prohibited there are good omens, and this applies when the omen is verified. Verification requires two occurrences, which is why Rashi mentions both Purim and Pesach. For two times create a chazakah.”
Halachic Ruling of the Joy of Adar
The Rif (Taanis 9b) cites the special status of Adar as a halachic ruling, and the ruling is likewise mentioned by the Rosh (4:32). The Rambam (Taanios 5:6), however, quotes only the ruling of the Mishnah, “When Av commences we diminish our joy,” and makes no mention of Adar.
The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch also mention Av and omit the halachah of Adar. They also rule that one who has a dispute with a non-Jew should be careful to avoid the month of Av (Orach Chaim 551:1), again omitting the parallel virtue of Adar.
The Magen Avraham (686:5), however, and in his wake the Mishnah Berurah (686:8), rule, “When the month of Adar enters we increase our joy, and someone who has a dispute with a non-Jew should settle it in Adar.” This is also ruled by the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (141:1) and by the Aruch Hashulchan (686:6).
The omission by the Rambam and other authorities of the halachah of Adar is explained by the Chasam Sofer (ibid.). He writes that the ruling whereby we are to augment our joy from the beginning of Adar corresponds to the opinion that requires minimizing joy from the beginning of Av, rather than only during the week of Tisha Be’Av.
The Rambam rules that the principle customs of mourning before Tisha Be’Av apply only to the week in which Tisha Be’Av occurs. The limiting of joy that applies from the beginning of the month refers only to a “building” of joy (such as a wedding), and not to other matters. Therefore, just as there is no mourning from the outset of Av, there is no reason to augment joy from the beginning of Adar.
The Chasam Sofer explains that even the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch agree to the principle rulings of the Rambam, yet although there is no mourning from the beginning of Av, nonetheless the time is not fortuitous and one should therefore refrain from dangerous or risky matters from the beginning Av.
The matter of Adar is therefore not mentioned by these authorities.
Practical Implications for the Month of Adar
The Gemara does not explain how we are to augment our joy in the month of Adar.
According to the above-mentioned Chasam Sofer who explains that the joy of Adar corresponds to the mourning of Av, it will apparently follow that just as in the month of Av (according to this opinion) haircuts and washing are prohibited, so during Adar we should augment joy by being careful in the same matters. Of course, there is no obligation to take a haircut. The atmosphere of mourning in Av must be generally replaced by an atmosphere of joy in Adar.
It is noteworthy that the Meiri (Taanis, loc. cit.) interprets the directive of the Gemara in a novel manner, explaining, “It is proper to pray and to express gratitude to Hashem at all times, according to that which occurred at that time. One must bless upon the good and upon the bad, as we have explained.” Clearly, in the opinion of the Meiri, there is thus no concrete expression of the joy of Adar.
At the other extreme, the Nimmukei Orach Chaim (686) writes that during the month of Adar each person should augment his joy in a manner that suits him personally, thereby fulfilling the directive of Chazal. This will apparently apply to food, drink and other matters, each according to his disposition. Indeed, it is known that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz used to increase his hours of Torah study in the month of Adar: This was his way of augmenting joy!
However, authorities in general make no mention of this concept, and it appears that there is indeed no specific manner in which a person must augment the joy of Adar, beyond ensuring a general atmosphere of simchah as appropriate for the special month.
Reading the Megillah in Adar
The Mishnah (Megillah 1:1) lists the days on which the Megillah may be read, mentioning five days from the eleventh of Adar to the fifteenth. The Mishnah concludes, “no less and no more,” saying that the Megillah cannot be read at any other time.
Yet, in the Yerushalmi (Megillah 1:1) we find Rabbi Nassan cited as stating: “The entire month [of Adar] is valid for the reading of the Megillah.” This halachah is derived from the verse in the Megillah: “The month that was turned from anguish to joy.”
It appears that the statement of Rabbi Nassan reflects an opinion that disputes the ruling of the Mishnah, and maintains that the Megillah may be read from the beginning of the month.
This ruling is cited by the Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 688). Although he proceeds to explain that the Babylonian Talmud apparently rejected the opinion, one should nonetheless read the Megillah at the beginning of the month if no alternative is possible (note that a berachah is not recited on a reading at that time). The Shulchan Aruch (688:7) thus rules (in the name of “some say”) that wayfarers may read the Megillah, under extenuating circumstances, from the beginning of the month. The Rema adds that “this is the custom.”
Moreover, according to Mahari Asad (Yehudah Yaaleh 204) it is even permitted, under extenuating circumstances, to fulfill the other mitzvos of Purim (specifically mishloach manos) from the beginning of Adar. Yet, the Mishnah Berurah (20) cites a number of authorities who reject this ruling, and rules that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of the Purim feast, or mishloach manos, from the beginning of Adar.
According to the Yerushalmi, we learn at any rate that the entire month of Adar is related to the miracle of Purim: the entire month was turned from anguish to joy and from mourning to festival. It is therefore appropriate that the entire month should be a time of simchah, a time of augmenting our joy due to the great salvation of Hashem.
May we indeed be blessed with a joyful Adar.