“When the month of Av begins, we minimize joy… Rav Yehuda the son of Shmuel the son of Shilat says in the name of Rav: Just as one is required to minimize joy when the month of Av begins, so too when the month of Adar begins, we increase joy.” (T.B. Ta’anit 29a) Rashi (ibid.) comments: (When Adar begins) These were times of miracles for the Jews- Purim and Pesach.
The language of “JUST AS one is required to minimize joy…SO, TOO, when the month of Adar enters, one increases joy” implies that the two laws emanate from a similar construct. What factor is there that requires minimization of joy during the month of Av, which is the same factor which mandates an increase in joy during the month of Adar? An additional difficulty is Rashi’s inclusion of Pesach in the discussion of increasing joy in the month of Adar, which is the month of Purim.
In telling about Haman’s lottery to choose a date to destroy the Jews, the Talmud (T.B. Megillah 13b) teaches: “Since the lottery came out on the month of Adar Haman was very happy. He said `My lottery fell in the month that Moshe died.’ But he didn’t know that although on the seventh of Adar Moshe died, on the seventh of Adar he was (also) born.”
The implication is that Haman’s joy was basically justified. The month that Moshe died would have been most suitable for the destruction of the Jews. His only miscalculation was that Moshe Rabbeinu was born on the same day that he died. What made Adar a month so suitable for Haman’s decree? And why should the fact that both his birth and death were on the same day have altered the equation so significantly? (The precise implication of the Talmud’s state is that even if he had been born in Adar, that would not have been enough. It was the fact that Moshe was born on the same DAY that he died that made the difference.)
The Mishna in Taanit (T.B. Ta’anit 26a-b) lists five tragedies that occurred to the Jewish people on the 17th of Tammuz, and five others that occurred on the 9th of Av. In each case, the tragedy of Av was the conclusion of destruction that had its origins in the month of Tammuz. The two major events in the Mishna will serve to illustrate this point.
The Exodus from Egypt was the beginning of a process that was to take the Jews to Sinai to receive the Torah and on to the Land of Israel to erect the Holy Temple, never to be exiled. On the 17th of Tammuz, after receiving the Torah, the Jews committed cheit ha’egel, the sin of the Golden Calf, and when Moshe came down from Sinai he broke the Tablets. While their sin was a digression from the ideal plan, G-d was prepared to forgive this sin and allow those who left Egypt to enter the land of Israel and continue with the original process. (See Exodus 32:34; T.B. Sanhedrin 102a.) But the sin of the spies, with the refusal of the Jewish people to enter the Land of Israel on the 9th of Av terminated the process. It would have to be a different generation that entered Israel. Until that time, despite ups and downs, the potential still could have been realized. In the month of Av, the potential was lost and the process terminated.
In Tammuz, the walls of the City of Jerusalem were breached, beginning the process of the destruction of the Temple. Three weeks later, in the month of Av, the destruction was completed. Until that time, there was still hope that the Temple could be salvaged. Av was the time that the end was reached, closing the door on actualizing any potential that still existed.
The great joy associated with the birth of a baby is due to the tremendous potential we envision. A baby is pure potential, and when measured as such, every ability exists to its fullest. Every opportunity appears possible, and this is a source of great joy.
But the actuality never lives up to the potential. This is a reality of the finite world and is true everywhere: in physics, in human relationships, and in something as mundane as a vacation. Our visions and expectations are disappointed by reality.
So death brings sadness. Potential exists no more. The reality of accomplishment always falls short of the immeasurable potential with which the baby was born. Opportunities and potential that existed in life are gone forever with death, and this is the source of our sadness. We have reached the conclusion, and the point of termination is always a sad one.
An endpoint can be reached because a process is terminated. Or it can be reached because a process has reached completion. A conclusion can signify termination or it can signify completion In the latter situation, the completed process can serve as the basis for a new process to begin. (See Maharal Or Chadash and Netzach Yisrael.)
When Moshe Rabbeinu died, the process of receiving the Torah seemed to have ended. With the destruction of the first Temple, due to the nation’s abandonment of that Torah, followed by the failure of G-d to redeem the Jews from their exile according to the expected schedule the time appeared ripe for the total destruction of the Jewish people. When Haman’s lottery fell in the month of Adar, the month of Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, he viewed it as a propitious sign. The termination of the Jewish people was most suitable in the month that the process of receiving the Torah, the Jewish life force, had ended. Adar, as the end of the year, wou
ld be the end of the Jewish people. Yet the Rabbis teach us that he missed something. Where was Haman’s mistake?
Moshe Rabbeinu was an exception to the norm. His death on the day that he was born indicated that he actualized his potential to the fullest. The reality matched the expectations. His death wasn’t the termination of actualizing potential, but was the fulfillment, the proper conclusion, of that potential. It set the stage for a new beginning, starting with an even higher level of potential. So the month of Moshe Rabbeinu’s death could signify the end. Or it could signify a new beginning.
On what would it depend?
The Ramban at the end of Parshath Bo (Exodus 13:16) explains that G- d’s divine intervention through supernatural miracles, particularly when announced in advance by a prophet, refutes a number of fundamental heresies. These miracles demonstrate that the world has a Creator, that He knows and attends to what is happening, and He has the power to change the natural order. When announced in advance by a prophet, these miracles also demonstrate that He communicates with man through prophets, thereby confirming our Torah, which was revealed through the mechanism of prophecy.
The miracles of the exodus from Egypt, including the ten plagues and culminating in the splitting of the Red Sea, were all miracles done for this purpose.
Since, continues the Ramban, G-d does not perform such miracles in each generation simply to convince every doubter or heretic, he commanded us to make concrete memorials of these miracles (Mezuzot and Tefillin), and to transmit to our children throughout the generations the fact of these miracles. There were also many commandments focused on the Exodus from Egypt, some with very strict punishments for their violation, to perpetuate the testimony in every generation of these miracles, silencing heretics who would deny G-d’s existence.
Pesach miracles were unique in the clear and overt manifestation of G-d’s intervention in and control over every element of nature and history. They were done in an undeniable way, for all the world to witness.
There was a unique theological aspect to these miracles as well. To be the beneficiary of Divine intervention normally requires great merit on the part of man. Yet, we are taught that by the end of their exile in Egypt, the Jews had descended spiritually to the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity . They were hardly worthy, based on their deeds, of having miracles performed for them. Despite this, and with no human input or activity whatsoever, spiritual or physical , the miracles were performed and the Jews were redeemed exactly on schedule.
Through the period of the first Temple, G-d’s presence continued to be manifest, with daily miracles (Avot Ch. 5 Mishna 5) and ongoing prophecy. With the destruction of the Temple, these miracles ceased, never to return. During the Babylonian exile prophecy was on the wane, and G-d’s presence was becoming hidden.
This was the state of the Jewish people when Achashveirosh made his feast to celebrate the apparent failure of G-d to redeem the Jewish people on schedule. The Jews felt compelled to participate in the feast (T.B. Megillah 12a) despite protests from Mordechai that it was improper. Nine years later, the Jews were faced with a decree of total annihilation. G-d sent no prophecy to tell them why it was happening or how they should be saved. His face was hidden. How were they to know what was happening to them?
Through the eyes of an observer, the events of the Purim story can easily be interpreted as normal historical and political occurrences. Vashti being executed; a new queen being appointed; Haman being promoted; his hatred of Mordechai who wouldn’t subjugate himself; the resulting desire of Haman to destroy the Jews; his striking a deal with the King; Esther revealing the plot and the consequences for her personally; the King executing Haman for his treachery. Even the apparently less significant events could be attributed to those interesting quirks and coincidences of history. Bigtan and Teresh plotting to the kill the king in the earshot of Mordechai; Achashveirosh having insomnia and discovering that Mordechai had never been rewarded for his part in saving the king’s life, EXACTLY at the time that Haman was coming to convince the king to have Mordechai executed; none of these events seem to point conclusively to any Divine intervention in the natural running of the world.
The Jew bases his belief in G-d not on philosophy, but the compelling and overt miracles of Pesach and Divine revelation at Sinai. But if miracles aren’t occurring, if G-d isn’t communicating with man prophetically, man’s relationship with G-d is endangered.
It is significant that the name G-d does not appear even once in the entire Megillah. The Purim miracles were G-d’s hidden intervention in and control of history. Performance of these miracles was dependent on the moral and ethical activity of man. Everything was in place for the decree of annihilation to be executed. Had the Jews not understood the true source of the decree and repented properly, that decree would have been carried out. Instead, G-d redirected and inverted each element of potential destruction into an outcome of salvation. But it was done behind the scenes, with the miracles being done within the natural order.
The miracles of Pesach begin the annual cycle of Holidays. The miracles of Purim close the cycle. There is an evolution from G-d’s overt miraculous intervention, with man playing no role, to G-d’s hidden miraculous intervention, which are dependent on human actions (both ethical and spiritual) to bring them about, and human insight to recognize them.
As we are further removed from our observation of G-d’s miraculous intervention in nature, it becomes easier to attribute the natural running of the world to historical forces, political forces, coincidence. It has become the natural human reaction to look for forces outside the Divine to explain what we observe. This parallels the development of our calendar year. The spring month of Nisan and the holiday of Pesach are beginnings, when G-d’s creative and miraculous powers are manifest. Adar, at the end of a dark winter, is the conclusion of the year. As with any process, by the time one reaches the end, things have become routine. One may not see G-d so clearly anymore. Man becomes susceptible to the forces of Amalek, forces that belittle things of significance and elevate the power of coincidence.
As a conclusion, the month of Adar is suitable for the destruction, the conclusion, of Klal Yisrael. The death of Moshe was viewed by Haman as the conclusion of a certain force in Klal Yisrael, the force that gave them the Torah.
But every conclusion has the ability to be inverted (nehepach) to a completion. And as such it can serve as a new beginning to greater accomplishments. Moshe’s birth on the day that he died showed that the conclusion can serve as a new birth. The same force of conclusion which dictates minimization of joy in Av, dictates maximization of joy in Adar, for Adar was inverted from termination to completion.
The source of great joy in Adar is the recognition that the miracles of Purim had their origin at Pesach. The manifest presence of G-d in the miracles of Pesach serves as the foundation of our recognition of His hidden intervention in the miracles of Purim. The conclusion of prophecy and overt miracles that preceded the time of Purim could have been a termination point in our relationship with G-d. But through the struggles and efforts of the Jewish people at recognizing G-d, even when He was hidden, it became a new beginning.
Originally, the Jews had received the Torah as a result of their clear observation of Divine miracles and prophecy. There is an element of coercion in such an experience. As the Rabbis teach us (Shabbat 88a) Purim led to a renewed commitment to Torah observance, one done through their completely independent recognition of the Divine power and G-d’s love for the Jewish people. If no relationship is seen between the hidden intervention of G-d (Purim) and the overt miraculous control of nature (Pesach), then G-d remains hidden (Hester). Our own efforts at discovering the hidden relationship that exists between G-d and the Jewish people deepen that relationship, leading to the special joy of Adar and Purim.