Rebecca Masinter

Preparing for Purim - Being Happy is Not Related to Happy Ever After

Hooray! Purim is coming!  "Mishenichnas adar marbim besimcha", when Adar begins, we increase our joy.  Have you ever wondered why specifically Adar?  Why not say that about Tishrei which includes Sukkos known as Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our joy?  Or why not talk about increasing joy in Nissan, when Hashem did the most momentous and stupendous miracles for us?  Why is Adar the time we increase simcha?  

Believe it or not, the Purim story isn’t deliriously happy.  Firstly, it takes place outside Eretz Yisrael, between the times of the two batei mikdash.  There was no Temple in Yerushalayim and the Jewish nation was in a state of exile.  For this reason we don’t say Hallel on Purim.  It is a miracle that was a bit subdued.  Secondly, even though the Jewish nation was saved, it was not a case of happy ever after.  By the end of the megillah, Esther was still stuck in the palace, married to Achashveirosh, raising a child that never lived as a Jew, and Mordechai, instead of leading the Jews in triumph to Israel, became a Persian political adviser, perhaps not his ultimate life-goal.  So it really seems odd that we talk about increasing simcha in Adar, isn’t it?  

Here is the key to understanding this puzzle. Simcha is not a result of external events working out perfectly for us by divine intervention.  Simcha is not when all our wishes come true like Disney suggests.  It is a state we achieve by working towards it, developing internal joy, by reframing events positively, and by connecting with others. We achieve simcha, we don’t receive simcha.  Let's look again at the Purim story. The Jews started out disparate, conflicted, and disregarding the directives of Mordechai, their leader.  "Mefuzar umeforad bein ha’amim", scattered and dispersed.  And how did we change?  Esther called all the Jews “knos”, gather together, unite!  All of the Jews fasted and prayed together, all of us listened to Mordechai and Esther, and at the end we have a holdiday where we bring joy to each other with mishloach manos and matanos la’evyonim.  We created our own simcha.  Purim is a lesson for us that when life gives lemons, we make lemonade!

One more point worth noting...  The Gemara doesn’t only say “mishenichnas adar marbim b’simcha”, it actually begins with Av - meshichnas av memaatin b’simcha.  When Av comes, we decrease our joy.  What happened in Av?  The original Tisha B’Av was the night the spies came back from Eretz Yisrael and instead of fueling the nation’s excitement and eagerness to enter the land, they came back with dispiriting reports. The Jewish nation spent that night crying.  There is a painfully evocative medrash recording that Hashem said, “You cried over nothing?  I’ll give you something to cry about.”  That was Tisha B’Av.  So on Tisha B’Av, Hashem gave us lemonade, the gift of the Promised Land, and we turned it into lemons.  We did it to ourselves!  We created the lessening of joy in Av by choosing to cry about blessings in our life.  And in Adar, it is the exact same message.  We create our increase in joy by choosing to laugh, to connect, to be joyous and make others joyous.  That is why Adar is the perfect time to focus on simcha.  Simcha that we choose to have in our lives. The simcha present in imperfect lives and imperfect situations.  That is Adar.

There are many children and adolescents today struggling with joy. Many of them don't have the faintest idea that each of us has the power to increase our joy or vice versa. The message our society has given is that happiness is a byproduct of good things happening. Adar provides us with a timely and vital message for us to teach and mdoel to our children.  We aren't only happy when everything works out well for us.  We can choose to be joyous people, who have simcha no matter what our external circumstances are. That is the true lesson of Purim and it is why we increase simcha precisely for the miracle that wasn't happy ever after.