1 Adar Aleph 5763
From the Desk of: Rabbi Eli Meisels
Springing Towards Adar
The Gemara in Megilla (13b) tells us an interesting thing.
When Haman, of cursed memory, resolved to destroy the Jews, he drew lots to help him determine the optimum time for their destruction. These lots pointed to the month of Adar as the most propitious time for his scheme.
The Gemara tells us that Haman was overjoyed at this result. Why was he so happy?
Haman, we know, was not just flipping coins because he couldn’t make a decision – he was operating within the mystical worlds of mazal and tevah, and he knew that Adar was, in terms of mazal – not a good time for the Jews. It was a time of weakness for them as a nation.
The clearest indication of this was the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu passed away on 7 Adar – what could be a clearer sign of the decline of the Jews than the death of their greatest leader.
So Haman was happy, seeing in the fall of the lottery a presaging of his ultimate success.
But… the Gemara adds, “Haman did not know that Adar is also the month of the birth of Moshe.”
The Gemara seems to be saying, “You think that Adar is a bad time for the Jews, as Moshe Rabbeinu died then, but it’s also a good time for them, as he was also born then, so the things cancel each other out, and Adar is really just a neutral month.” This would appear to be the intent of the Gemara.
But this presents several problems. First of all, why would Haman know the date of Moshe’s death, and not his birth? Was this merely chance?
The simple answer to this is that the death of a great man is important and thus recorded and remembered, while his birth is less impactful, and is not as likely to be recalled. After all, while he’s a baby, nobody yet knows that he is destined for greatness.
For example, everyone knows, or can easily find out, the Yahrzeit of Harav Schach, zt’l, because it was an event felt by all of Jewry. But as to his birthdate, well, good luck tracking that down. There is actually a disparity of several years between the various accounts of his birthdate. Why? Because when he was born, nobody knew he would be Harav Schach.
Secondly, the Gemara’s Teretz is kind of odd. Haman had one adverse indication, we have one positive sign, so everything is all right, we’re safe – Adar is neutral, neither good nor bad.
Shouldn’t Chazal give us something that completely negates Haman’s good luck – something that turns his happiness into our Marbim B’Simcha. Isn’t that the overriding theme of Purim, V’Nehapechu? Why are Chazal satisfied with merely achieving a tie?
Finally, and this harks back to our earlier point – if Chazal are only trying to even the scales by countering Haman’s favorable omen, Moshe’s death, with one of our own, his birth, then it’s hard to see that they are successful.
After all, one cannot truly equate the birth of a future Tzaddik with the passing of an accomplished Tzaddik. At birth it is not at all clear what will become of this baby, and even in the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, who was certainly an exceptional infant, one cannot compare his stature as a newborn to that of his final day on earth, after 120 years of unceasing character development and improvement.
Let us examine the month of Adar a bit more closely, and perhaps we will get a hint of what the Gemara is trying to tell us – and draw a measure of inspiration we can relate to our own lives.
To do so, let us move forward a month and take a quick look at Nisan, the first month of the year.
Ah Nisan, what a glorious month; a time of rebirth, spring in the year, birds chirping, sun shining.
And not only in the physical realm, but in a spiritual sense as well. Nisan is the month of birth, the birth of our nation, the time when time began.
A time truly deserving of the cheerful title ‘spring’.
Cold, dreary, rainy. No flowers, not much sun, a time of weariness, both physical and spiritual – No Jewish holidays (before Purim) – our great leader, Moshe died then; it is a time, to paraphrase the Medrash, when “we are exhausted, out of strength.”
All in all, a pretty miserable month. Certainly nothing to compare with Nisan.
But wait a second. Where do those cheerful little springtime flowers come from? All those blades of grass, poking their tiny tips out of the ground. They don’t just materialize out of thin air, do they?
Of course not.
During Adar they’re right there, just below the frozen surface, getting ready to poke their heads up and restart the process of birth and rejuvenation.
Without Adar there would be no Nisan; without the cold, wet months in which the seeds rot under the ground, there could be no new growth, no new beginnings.
Adar may look bleak, may look like death, but it contains the potential for the continuation of life. And not just the potential, but the very groundwork of the future is contained in the seeming harshness of the present.
Now we may understand our puzzling Gemara. When Haman looked at Adar, all he saw was the darkness – the death of Moshe Rabbeinu – what appeared to be the end of our strength; what he did not see was the aspect of renewal that is contained in Adar – signified by the birth of Moshe.
The birth of a future Tzadik indeed does not weigh against the passing of an accomplished Tzadik, but it does symbolize for us the perfect cycle of Jewish existence – and embodies the potential which, with time, will come to be realized, and which is of itself an implicit promise that we will continue to thrive, so as to realize that potential.
This is why Chazal tell us that a great Tzadik never dies without a new one being born; not because this newborn can replace the lost giant, but to remind us that Jewish existence is an eternal cycle, with, in the words of the Zohar, “the end tucked into the beginning”, Nisan as a natural outgrowth of Adar.
Haman looked at Adar and saw Death and Finality; We look at Adar and see Birth and Continuity.
Thus Chazal indeed trump Haman’s bad omen. He saw the death of Moshe Rabbeinu. We see the birth and the death, not only not a bad omen, but the proof that our existence is a well-planned cycle, and that where things seem to be ending is really the augury of a bright new beginning. If one were to ask any thinking person the following question: “At which point in your life did you experience the greatest personal growth?” the answer would be, almost inevitably, “When times were hard and I had almost given up, when all seemed hopeless and lost.”
“And where did you find the strength to continue?”
“It was right there, right below the surface. I just had to dig down to bring it out.”
This is the pattern of the world – when things appear most bleak, therein lies the greatest potential for achievement – for life. (At the moment of greatest trauma, a baby is born – new life!)
An interesting Remez to this is that the words “Marah shechorah”, Hebrew for ‘Black Depression’, contain the same letters as “Hirhur Sameach”, which means ‘Happy Thought’.
But it doesn’t happen through a heroic rescuer riding in and saving the day, rather within the trial itself lies the promise.
This is the message of Adar – that things were indeed bleak – the Jews were at the end of their spiritual strength – and from the very trauma – they found the strength to turn the Death into new Life – the lottery of Haman into our lottery.
May we all find the strength to identify our own potential, and to turn our bleak moments, our periods of disillusion, into times of growth and our own personal Purims.
Ah Freilichen Purim!
Rabbi Eli Meisels