Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Double Adars

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

So here we are, on a drab, wintry day in Chodesh Adar, and there seems to be nothing but sorrow all around. In addition to grief caused by dreaded diseases and untimely deaths, we grapple with problems arising from divisiveness and machlokes. The backbiting and discord come from all sides.

There are so many arguments in our community, and so many lives disrupted by these quarrels. People are wrongly blamed for things they did not do; whispering campaigns seek to destroy people without giving them a chance to defend themselves. Good people who never harmed anyone find themselves the butt of criticism and mockery.

Life itself seems so taxing at times. We work so hard to make ends meet and strive to find solutions for the problems that face us. We see no way out of so many vexing issues confronting us.

And yet we are told that Adar is a month of happiness.

There are too many people out there who wonder how or when they will ever be happy. As long as they aren’t happy, how can we be?

It is so hard to feel simcha when there are so many people barely clinging to life. We all know too many people who are in desperate need of a refuah and so many waiting for a yeshuah of one sort or another.

How can we blissfully go about our business while hundreds of single girls watch the months and years go by without having yet found a mate? How can we be happy when we know of so many people who can’t make ends meet? How can we walk around blithe and carefree when we are aware of so much sadness and confusion in our community? How can we be positive about our future when there is so much negativity and cynicism around us?

Look about you. It’s a cold, gray day. The thermometer is still way below where you’d like it to be. Life is a monotonous routine - or so it seems. Work has become a drag. You peer outside to escape the gloom and instead watch the snowflakes spiraling down through the cold night air. You fear that those mid-winter blues have you in their grip.

The chill of the exile has taken over your being.

You know that it’s Chodesh Adar and you thought the sun would be shining today. You’d like to think that soon things will turn around. Soon you’ll be feeling like the Jews of Shushan when they were saved from extermination. After all, Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Besimcha. But you just can’t pull yourself out of the slump. From all sides, the picture looks dreary and discouraging.

What are we to do? How are we to become happy in a dark world?

If we attempt to spread happiness among those unfortunate individuals who really have so little to look forward to, we will not only bring them joy, but will increase the joy in our own lives as well. If we refuse to ignore the suffering of others and resist the urge to turn a blind eye to people who could use our assistance but are ashamed to ask, we can chase away some of the darkness.

If we seek opportunities to join in a fellow Jew’s simcha, we will find that we not only have enhanced his simcha, but have deepened our own capacity to feel simcha as well.

If we seek to be mechazeik others and support them, instead of stooping to knock them down and criticize them, we can improve the world and make it a better place for everyone to live in.

If we look towards the future with optimism and seek ways to strengthen our schools, yeshivos and talmidei chachomim, there will be a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

The Megillah relates that the chachomim during the time of the miracle of Purim instituted the practice of sending mishloach manos. Chazal interpret the mitzvah as an obligation to send a friend two different types of food on Purim. Nowadays, the mitzvah has “expanded;” we send an assortment of foods to a variety of acquaintances.

Perhaps we can understand the mitzvah on a different level. The word “manna” really doesn’t mean food; its proper definition is “portion.” Manos is the plural of manna, hence the obligation to send your friends portions on Purim.

Mishloach Manos does not mean merely to send the standard nosh plus a little bottle of grape juice, but rather to send the person what he or she needs; something uniquely tailored for each recipient. This one needs a dose of hope, this one a good word, and this one a smile. That one needs encouragement to keep battling on, and someone else needs clothing for his family for Yom Tov.

On Purim, the happiest day in the Jewish calendar, the mitzvos of the day -mishteh, simcha, mishloach manos ish lereyeihu, and matanos l’evyonim - are intended to help enhance the day’s joy. In other words, the way to enhance and increase joy is by helping others, by distributing money to the poor and by giving our friends doses of what they need.

Umishloach manos ish lereyeihu.” Every person should be attuned to what his friend needs and, in the spirit of Purim, help that person by delivering it to him.

The posuk in Shmuel Aleph (1:4-5) uses the term “manna” in connection with a narrative describing how Elkana would go to Shilo and offer karbanos there. At that time, he would give “mannos” to his wife Peninah and all her sons and daughters. And to Chana he would give “manna achas apayim, ki es Chana oheiv, vaHashem sogar rachmah.”

Elkana would give to Chana manna achas apayim, a double portion; because he loved her and she had no children. Rashi explains that he gave her a portion intended to be accepted “b’seiver ponim yafos.” The Radak adds that he gave her a respectable portion intended to remove her sadness and anger.

That is the “manna” which we are to deliver on Purim. By giving the people we love and care about manna achas apayim, double portions, we can help assuage their anger and frustration over the things in their lives which aren’t going properly. Through mishloach manos, we can soothe aching hearts and comfort ruffled feathers. The mitzvah is to spread happiness and joy. The mitzvah is to go from friend to friend with portions of what they require in order to elicit simcha and appreciation for the gift of life.

B’echod b’Adar mashmiyim al hashekolim.” We read the parsha of shekalim, which cites the obligation for each Jewish male to contribute one half shekel to the Mishkan during the month of Adar. What is the connection of this parsha to Purim?

Perhaps the lesson to be gleaned from the mitzvah for every person to contribute a half shekel is that every Jew is meant to be a giver. All Jews are equally important and equally needed in contributing to the Mishkan. Without each person’s donation, something is lacking in the keren of the Bais Hamikdosh.

In Adar, the month of happiness, this thought ought to bring a smile to our faces. We each have a mission to fulfill on this earth and we are all treated equally by the Kohanim and Leviim in the Mishkan. Everyone’s half shekel is cumulatively what keeps the Mishkan operating.

Every person was put on this earth to fulfill his or her unique mission. Some were born bright, while others were not. There are those who, no matter what they invest in, always come out ahead, while others just drag along. That is not the yardstick by which we judge others; the only thing that matters is that we do our best to realize our potential and fulfill the goals for which we were created. What counts is that we are givers, always looking to share our gifts and portions with fellow Jews.

We fulfill our mission in life by giving of ourselves to others. We never know how much time is allotted to us here or how long the window of opportunity to fulfill our particular mission will remain open. If we use our time properly, studying Torah, performing mitzvos, effecting positive change and engendering happiness for others, our lives will be imbued with satisfaction and happiness.

Truly successful people are those who utilize their time to the fullest, advancing causes and ideas which lead to the betterment of others. Successful people are those who don’t jealously look over their shoulders to see if they have as much as the next guy. Successful people do not begrudge others’ success and joy in life. They work to help the other fellow get ahead. They do what they can to help the less fortunate find happiness.

Successful people are happy during Adar and all year round because they take the messages of mishloach manos and machatzis hashekel to heart. Such people are unbowed by the cold of winter or the lonely sadness of defeat or a temporary setback. Adar people always look ahead with the knowledge that tomorrow will be a better day. Their lives are fueled with the faith that with G-d’s help they can overcome all odds.

In the spirit of Adar, let us do what we can to cause the gray clouds to part. Let us all draw smiles on the faces of those who frown. We all have what to contribute. We can all bring joy and happiness to others, one half shekel at a time, one portion at a time.

Let us all seek to be contributors and try to offer positive contributions to the community. Let us all judge people favorably. Let us build people up and not destroy them. Let us seek to add happiness to our world and Yiddishkeit. Let us resolve not to do anything that causes sadness and destruction.

This year we are blessed with two Adars. Let’s make full use of them!


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