The Task of Adar (Ideas #78)

I have always preferred the human narratives of the book of Bereshit to the grandiose miracle stories in the book of Shemot.  I imagine that most people are better able to relate to events that resemble their own life experiences. Thus, no matter how central the splitting of the ReedSea and the standing at Mount Sinai are to our religious consciousness, it is hard to truly appreciate their description in the Torah. For similar reasons, Pesach is a difficult holiday to truly observe, as reaping the inspiration that is supposed to flow out of the Pesach celebration is not something that lends itself to us very easily.



History is often divided into different time periods. In the history of Judaism, one of the most important distinctions is between the period of miracles and prophecy, and the subsequent period, which is defined specifically by a general absence of such direct Divine intervention. The first period can be said to have begun with the prophecies of Moshe and to have ended with the destruction of the first Temple.


It seems very significant that the events of Purim occurred at the end of the first historical period described above. In the same way that the events we commemorate on Pesach set the tone for the first historical period, the events we commemorate on Purim set the tone for subsequent Jewish history. Indeed, the Talmud implies as much by telling us that the Jews actually accepted the Torah at two times in history – the first after coming out of Egypt and the second one during the events of Purim. Moreover, the Talmud implies that the critical acceptance was not the former but the latter (Shabbat 88b).


At the same time, the rabbis may have taken for granted that without the former, there would never have been the latter. As eloquently developed by Ramban, Pesach is only part of a great cluster of Jewish observances that are meant to focus us on the seminal events experienced by the Jews in their deliverance from Egypt. Remembering these events is clearly essential to our identity as Jews. Still, it appears that just as the acceptance of the Torah that happened at Purim is dependent on remembering the events of Pesach, so too is the continued commemoration of Pesach dependent on our observance of Purim.


In this regard, it is no coincidence that Purim falls out exactly thirty days before Pesach, the period of time recommended by the sages for preparation for any holiday.  One of the main themes of Purim is the appreciation of G-d's presence in a world that is run without obvious intervention. Indeed, the Megilla is the story of how G-d orchestrates events to accomplish His ends without the use of a single miracle. The great irony of the story is the blindness of the villains to this orchestration, precisely because of the lack of obvious miracles.


Yet, just as one can see G-d without miracles, one can be blind to G-d within the midst of the greatest miracles. Accordingly, one wonders why all those who saw the miracles of the Pesach story didn't become avowed devotees of the G-d of Israel and accept His claim as the only G-d. In fact, the polytheism of the ancient world was only barely affected by these events. The ancients were able to explain these events according to their own categories, believing that this was the act of only one of many gods, who like all the other gods, would capriciously show his power one day only to be silent the next. In our times as well, there have been those who have tried to explain the plagues and the splitting of the ReedSea in a purely scientific manner. Indeed, if one doesn't have the appropriate categories in which to place phenomena, one may readily miss their significance.


From this perspective, we see that the miracles of Egypt were not really meant to prove G-d's existence. Rather, they were to provide a fundamental emotive religious experience for those who already believed in Him and for all those who would do so in the future. 


More than Nissan, it is actually the month of Adar that teaches us to appreciate G-d's presence in the everyday world – which is the very real experience of all Jews who have lived since the cessation of miracles and prophecy. It is the story of Purim that trains us to look for the presence of G-d, and so to prepare us to see G-d in the open miracles of the Pesach story. When miracles are not part of our own experience, the person who is not able to see G-d in his own regular daily experience will never really be able to see G-d's existence in the realm of miracles either. Thus, the role of Adar is to refresh the categories of our belief every year, so that we can truly appreciate the emotive experience of celebrating Pesach.


The above may explain an unusual comment of Rashi on the well-known phrase that “from the time that Adar enters, we should increase our joy” (Ta'anit 29a). Rashi tells us that this is referring to Purim and Pesach, which is the season of miracles that happened to the Jews. At first glance, Rashi’s inclusion of Pesach seems to be totally irrelevant, as the above phrase doesn't mention Pesach and the month of Nissan whatsoever. Moreover, as mentioned above, one of the most important points of the story of Purim is that it occurred without miracles. Perhaps, however, Rashi is alluding to the idea that Purim and Pesach represent a single unit of religious commemoration – that once miracles and prophecy ceased, one cannot truly have Pesach without Purim.



*                           *                           *


Adar has become a very beloved month to the Jews. I say become, because I don't think it was necessarily always that way. Before the historical events that served as the impetus for Purim, Adar was a month bereft of holidays. As many say about the month of Cheshvan, a month without holidays is a bitter month indeed. Of course before Purim and Chanukah, the Biblical calendar left many months without holidays. Nonetheless, as the last of the empty months before Pesach, Adar may well have been the dreariest of them all. The complete reversal, wherein this most dreary month became the linchpin of our very identity, is a source for great joy indeed.