It's the Jewish month of Adar - be happy

Israel nationally, collectively – desperately needs that spirit of Purim from 2,400 years ago. We need the self-perception of legitimacy to give us the self-confidence to make the inner mental switch to activate our already-existing latent strength.

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Megillah  of Esther
Megillah of Esther

As Adar begins…

It is one of our best-known and best-loved aphorisms: מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר, מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה, "When the month of Adar comes in, we increase in joy."

The Talmud (Ta’anit 29a) tells us that it was Rav Yehudah, the son of Rav Shmu’el bar Shilat, who said this, citing it in the name of his mentor Rav.

Rav – meaning “Master”, implying the Master par excellence – was the honorific bestowed upon the first-generation Babylonian Amora whose actual name was Abba, who died in the year 4006 (246 C.E.).

Rav Shmu’el bar Shilat was also a Babylonian Amora, a disciple of Rav (Yerushalmi Berachot 7:2); so close a disciple that Rav asked Rav Shmu’el bar Shilat to eulogise him after his death, which he did so movingly that he brought the other mourners in the funeral cortège to tears (Shabbat 153a).

Rav Shmu’el bar Shilat’s son, Rav Yehudah, was likewise a disciple of Rav (Berachot 47a).

(And maybe the Aramaic inflection, מַרְבִּין rather than the Hebrew מַרְבִּים, is because Rav, who originally pronounced this aphorism, and Rav Yehudah, who transmitted it, were both Babylonian.)

It is an intriguing idea. If we indeed increase in joy when the month of Adar comes in, this implies that the rejoicing of Purim applies not only to the day of Purim itself, the 14th and the 15th of Adar; rather, the rejoicing of Purim infuses the entire month of Adar with its spirit.

What, then is the spirit of Purim?

There are, of course, a great many answers. But there is one specific aspect that I would like to focus on here:

Haman issued his decree of genocide on the 13th of Nissan (Esther 3:3:12), to be carried out almost a year later, on the 13th of Adar (v. 13).

And the Jews’ response?

“In every single province, every place which the king’s word and decree reached, the Jews had great mourning, and fasting and weeping and dirges, most of them in sack-cloth and ashes” (4:3).

The word that the author of the Megillat Esther uses for “dirges” is מִסְפֵּד, which really means “eulogy”. That is to say, the Jews were already eulogising one another, already considered themselves dead.

They were still living and breathing, they knew that nothing bad was going to happen for another eleven months (…ten months…nine months…eight…seven…six…) – yet they could see no way out. Their massacre was already as though an accomplished fact, inexorable and unalterable.

When Queen Esther exposed the full ramifications of this decree to King Achashverosh, he was indeed distraught – but he did not rescind the decree of genocide; “because anything written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet-ring cannot be rescinded” (8:8).

What King Achashverosh could do – and indeed did do – was to permit the Jews of every province and town to defend themselves. This decree was issued on the 23rd of Sivan (8:9), almost nine months in advance of the planned pogrom.

What really changed?

– Nothing.

King Achashverosh didn’t forbid his subjects to attack the Jews, he didn’t send his army or police to protect the Jews, he didn’t provide the Jews with weapons or training, he didn’t provide them with a safe haven.

The only thing he did was to give them permission to fight back, that’s all.

The real switch was in the Jews’ own heads and minds. They had exactly the same strengths and weaknesses, the identical weaponry at their disposal as before – and the king’s decree provided them with one thing and one thing only: their self-perception of legitimacy.

And that gave them such massive self-confidence that when the time of trial came, on the 13th of Adar, the day that the king’s original edict of genocide (which, remember, was still in force) came into effect, in Shushan alone the Jews killed 500 of their would-be murderers, and another 300 the next day; and in the rest of the Persian provinces they killed 75,000 (9:11-16).

The Jews of the Persian Empire had the power and the strength within themselves all along to defeat their enemies. All they needed was the inner mental switch to activate that strength.

And this contains a message crucial for our times.

At the beginning of this week, Arab terrorists in Gaza began firing missiles at Israeli targets throughout the south of the country. The Israeli response was (as invariably over the last few decades) very insipid. There was – and has been for years if not for decades – a feeling that there is nothing that we, as a nation, can do against terrorism.

Like Haman’s decree of genocide, it is a fait accompli, an unalterable component of our lives.

Last Sunday evening shortly after 6:00, interviewed on Reshet Bet of Israel Radio, Minister of Energy and member of Israel’s Security Cabinet Yuval Steinitz summarised the Israeli Government’s belief:

“No one has ever had any magical solution for Gaza, except for conquering Gaza – and this has a high price for us… It appears that we will do this in the end – but don’t forget that war and taking full control of Gaza is the only way to uproot the Hamas and to clean Gaza of the rockets. And even this will only hold for a few years. Don’t forget that there is a price for this… It makes no difference who will be the government, not in five years and not in ten years will be free of the threat of terror, not in the south [from Gaza] and not in the north [from Lebanon], and not in the centre [of the country]”.

At that, the interviewer challenged Minister Steinitz:

“We will live on our swords forever?”

To which the Minister frankly replied: “At least for the foreseeable future, this is the reality in the Middle East. The entire Middle East is burning all around us, and occasionally towards us… There is no complete and perfect solution for the problem of terrorism. The State of Israel already exists for 72 years, and there has not been a single year without terrorism…"

"We are doing all we can to strike at the Hamas, to deter [them] and to defend [Israel]… But if we want any solution beyond temporary agreements, a solution for a few years, this necessitates conquering Gaza for at least a few weeks; apparently we’re heading in this direction… In the end we won’t have any choice, and this end might be very near… we will have to conquer Gaza, at least temporarily, to clean away the missiles, to bring the Hamas down…and then maybe the Palestinian Authority, or maybe internal forces from within Gaza [will take control]. But I still say that this is not a solution which will eliminate the threat from Gaza entirely”.

This is the voice – well, a voice anyway – of the current Israeli government. And an authoritative voice at that.

But is the reality really so bleak? Is Israel, with most powerful Army and the strongest economy in the Middle East, really that helpless? Is Israel really incapable of eliminating a motley bunch of terrorists?

– Of course not. Of course we have the physical strength to defeat terrorism, to bring true and lasting peace to Israel. Of course we can clean out Gaza within a few days.

Let us remember that until the Six Day War of June 1967, Gaza was part of Egypt, the single most powerful Arab state in existence. And when Egypt led a vast war-coalition of 13 Arab and Moslem states in attacking Israel in a war of aggression and attempted genocide, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt in 12 hours – even while repelling attacks on another three fronts (Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria) simultaneously!

The more-than 100,000 Egyptian troops, 5 infantry and 2 armoured divisions, with over 1,000 tanks and hundreds of artillery pieces, collapsed before the I.D.F. within hours. The rabble of a few hundred terrorists who currently control Gaza are but a cipher.

Of course Israel can take Gaza: it is but a decision away.

And to make that decision, we – Israel nationally, collectively – desperately need that spirit of Purim from 2,400 years ago. All we need is the self-perception of legitimacy to give us the necessary self-confidence to make the inner mental switch to activate our already-existing latent strength.

מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר, מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה, When the month of Adar comes in, we increase in joy. And as the month of Adar begins, Purim already infuses us – or should infuse us – with its spirit.

I write these words right before Israel goes to the polls (for the third time in a year!). It is time for us to seize the moment, and to internalise the words from Megillat Esther:

וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁלְטוּ הַיְּהוּדִים הֵמָּה בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם: “And the opposite happened – that the Jews overpowered those who hated them!” (Esther 9:1).