Are We Still Supposed to be Happy this Adar?

Let’s be clear. The obligation to “increase our happiness” in Adar is counterintuitive. Not just this year, with the wounds of October 7th still so fresh; but every year.

In our national calendar, Adar is the end of the year. When Adar arrives, the end is near. A near year, a new season, a new opportunity, a new dawn – it’s all about to happen. Soon. But not yet. Not for another month.

Our sages (ר”ה יא א) teach us that בְּנִיסָן נִגְאֲלוּ בְּנִיסָן עֲתִידִין לִיגָּאֵל – In Nisan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Nisan we will be redeemed. But Nisan is a month away, and this year in particular, redemption seems more distant than ever.

As this Adar enters, we increase our desperation. Our exasperation. Our exhaustion. Our frustration. Our disappointment with the nations of the world.

As Adar enters, we increase our concern for the hostages. We increase our horror at the complicity and complacency of “decent people.”

As we welcome Adar II this Shabbos, another month has gone by and more of our holy Chayalim have given their lives. Mothers, father, wives and children are still sitting Shiva. So many more are crying next to the beds of their wounded loved ones. Rockets are flying from Lebanon, and thousands of families have yet to return to their homes.

This week, we marked 150 days since our world changed forever and redemption has not yet arrived.

I dare say it, but as this Adar enters we cannot help but increase our sadness.

We are living in the generation before the dawn breaks. We are the Jews who haven’t yet left Egypt. The sea has not yet split. For us, Mordechai is still wearing sackcloth and Ester is still fasting, trembling before she meets the king. The ten sons of Hamas (not a typo) have not yet been hanged.

We are the Jews at the end of time, living through the “Adar” of Jewish history, still waiting for the spring to arrive. Or, in the words of our sages (סוטה מט ב), we are experiencing the עקבתא דמשיחא – the heels of Moshiach.

Perhaps then, it was davka to us that Chazal whispered and insisted, משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה – when Adar enters, it is time to work on increasing our happiness. Not because it’s easy and not because it’s obvious. We need to increase our happiness because that is the greatest need of our generation.

In a world of rising anxiety, depression, instability and antisemitism, we need to increase our happiness.

But how?

Naturally, we turn to our sages to identify the correct methodology to fulfill this obligation. But curiously, Chazal do not define how we should become happier. Neither the Talmud nor the Poskim give us any instructions at all!

This startling absence is a clear giveaway that our understanding is deficient. We are looking at the instructions of Chazal with the self-centered lenses of our contemporary society. We are looking for directions to becoming happier. And why not? Who doesn’t want to experience greater happiness. But The words מרבין בשמחה do not mean “to become happier,” they mean “to increase happiness.”

This is a completely different aim. It is possible to increase another person’s happiness even if we are heartbroken, exhausted and confused.

The most pressing need of Chodesh Adar, of the end of the year, and the end of time is to becoming multipliers of Simcha.

After some searching, I finally found this exact explanation in a lesser known work of the Rishonim, the Sefer HaMichtam (Rabbi David ben Levi of Narbonne, late 13th century – ברוך שכוונתי):

ההרבות בשמחה האמור משנכנס אדר לא נאמר להרבות מאכלים ובמשתאות אבל לב העניים והאביונים ובכללה כל שמחת מצוה

The increase in happiness as Adar enters is not an instruction to eat and drink more. Instead, focus on the hearts of those impoverished and destitute, and in general, all the happiness of doing mitzvos.

Chazal are imploring us shift our center.

This refocusing is echoed in the Rambam’s description of the obligation of Simchas Yom Tov:

וכשהוא אוכל ושותה חייב להאכיל לגר ליתום ולאלמנה עם שאר העניים האמללים. אבל מי שנועל דלתות חצרו ואוכל ושותה הוא ובניו ואשתו ואינו מאכיל ומשקה לעניים ולמרי נפש אין זו שמחת מצוה אלא שמחת כריסו.

When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his stomach.

Of course, our own experiences reveal a great irony. Those who stop chasing their own happiness and invest their time, energy and money into making other people happy find themselves filled with inner contentment.

The pursuit of happiness might be epitomized by a white picket fence. But the actual attaining of such happiness is achieved by breaking the fences down; opening our hearts and homes to each other.

Likewise, when we dedicate ourselves to Avodas Hashem, to Torah, Mitzvos and Chessed we find wells of untapped energy and deep satisfaction. The Sfas Emes notes that when the Beis HaMikdash stood, Jews tasted this Simcha when they donated their half shekel coins. That simple act of investing in the continuity of Klal Yisrael, the Mikdash and Korbanos, of knowing that you are a part of something enormous and meaningful, was a catalyst for Simcha.

This is the deeper meaning of why we’re reading Parshas Shekalim this Shabbos. It’s the introduction to Chodesh Adar II.

It reminds us that in the midsts of brokenness and despair we can still make a difference. We don’t need to know all the answers. But when Adar arrives, we can still increase the net Simcha of the world. All it takes is a single shekel given to a person in need, dedicated to the Mikdash. Or rather, scratch that: Half a shekel will do.

Half a shekel is all it takes to cross over the darkness before the dawn. Perhaps that is why Hashem reveals the Machatzis HaShekel as a מַטְבֵּעַ שֶׁל אֵשׁ – coin of fire. A single coin gives us the light and heat needed to navigate the final moments before the Geulah of Nisan finally arrives.

With Hashem’s help, we should merit to see it soon.