Friday, February 27, 2009

How to increase our joy, in verse (Derashah Terumah 5769)

I have established a tradition of delivering an Adar derashah in verse; this is now the third year of this chazakah (although it is not a neder).

We are careful in all of our mitzvot
Punctilious in tfillah and shabbat,
We check for bugs in our vegetables,
We daven and learn Torah a lot.

But there is one, fairly simple mitzvah
For which I would like to raise the bar,
It’s the oft-ignored but so-important practice,
Of making ourselves happy in Adar.

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim b’Simchah,
or so have advised our sages,
Increase your joy in the month of Adar, they have said,
and this has been their advice through the ages.

But how are we supposed to be happy?
I think it would be quite a great coup,
If we could define Simchah k’Hilchitah -
But those sages didn’t tell us what to do!

“Be happier!” says the gemara,
without any real elaboration,
Its only advice is to schedule this time
for any necessary secular litigation.

Are we to have great feasts or play practical jokes?
Are we to recite Lou Costello’s “Who’s on First?”
Is there a minimum shiur for the size of our parties?
Is there a chumra to hear speeches in verse?

We might find answers if we would consider why,
The month of Adar is marked for a great high.
The roots of this joy run deep within our past,
And its reasons should provide some answers fast.

Rashi says that in Adar we increase joy
Because on Purim and Pesach, it’s Geulah we enjoy.
So we celebrate HaShem’s great salvation,
The way Gd has acted to save the Jewish nation.

On Purim we come to recognize
that HaShem has been by our side all along,
That even before Haman launched his wicked plan,
HaShem had arranged a way to keep us strong.

And in Mitzrayim, even as we suffered
under tyranny of Egyptian control,
HaShem had long-arranged Moshe Rabbeinu
to save our ancestors from their deep hole.

Seeing HaShem’s Hand fits Adar in other ways,
For Adar is a season of new growing,
When plants in Israel begin to reach their prime,
and the grassy lawn begins to need mowing.

The beautiful fruit on the trees,
those flowers we smell on the breeze,
Only now do we see it all well,
HaShem’s plan from when the leaves fell.

So in order for me to celebrate
and to fill my month of Adar with great glee,
In my routine practices I should highlight
what HaShem has done all along just for me.

I need not create something new,
No need for any novelty.
I need only joy at Gd’s deeds,
Gratitude for this Divine liberty.

But the Sfat Emet made another case
for why Adar has long been singled out,
He claimed that this is now a special month
As a time when we have been devout.

Every year, in the time of the Mikdash,
donations were collected in Adar,
To fund the year’s korbanot,
we sent shkalim from near and from far.

It’s when we provided for the mikdash,
when we gave HaShem of our own,
It’s when we renewed life all around us,
By connecting our world with Gd’s throne.

In the time of the Mikdash, if you brought a korban
You would make a personal celebration,
So in this month when we brought our national gift
we should make merry as one big congregation.

In fact, this theme is in Purim and Pesach,
The roots of our joy, in Rashi’s view,
For those two geulot had a human role,
Taking part in the Jewish rescue.

Purim relied on HaShem’s master plan,
but it was Esther who brought it to fruition,
And for Pesach it was Moshe and others,
Who used their strength, their guts and ambition.

If Sfat Emet is right, and Adar’s special status
comes through great deeds performed by human hands,
Then it seems to me that we should perform new deeds
creating Adar glee to spread in our lands.

Parties would be most appropriate,
building fun things and providing children with toys.
But of course, all must still center on Torah,
and the korbanot that led to our current joys.

Two different views of why we are Marbim b’Simchah,
two different views of why and how we all celebrate,
Both tie in to this week’s Bnei Akiva Shabbaton
Both are in that model whom they seek to emulate.

Rabbi Akiva saw the hand of HaShem;
he laughed with hope despite great devastation.
But he insisted we must act for ourselves;
supporting Bar Kochba with great determination.

These two views may be seen in our own age,
when we have returned to Israel, the land of our own.
We recognize how HaShem has moved our history,
bringing us, at last, to our ancient home.

At the same time we know for ourselves,
that our actions must make Israel succeed,
Aliyah, visiting and support,
the future yet relies on our deed.

So in this month of Adar let us celebrate,
recognizing HaShem’s Hand, and our role, too,
Let us be joyous as we go about our lives,
and let us also create joys that are new.

Soon may we merit the Beit haMikdash,
whether built by our hands or lowered from above,
And may we all return posthaste to Israel, our land,
reunited with HaShem b’ahavah, with love.

1. The source for משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה is Taanit 29a. The Rif (9b in his pages) cites it as halachah. However, note that the Chatam Sofer (1: Orach Chaim 160) seems to suggest that this is not actually normative halachah.

2. Both Rashi and Sfas Emes are on that gemara in Taanis. R' Akiva's laughter is at the end of Maseches Makkos.

I posted last year's derashah, The Poetry of Purim Meshulash, here.

4. I've thought about doing this for all of Adar's derashot this year, but... nah.


  1. And don't forget eating hamataschen!! :-}

  2. All through Adar?! If I would start on those at the beginning of Adar, there would be nothing left long before Purim...

  3. All but one of them were to remind me to emphasize certain words when I recited the poem, because people who are listening to a rhyme often get caught up in the rhyming and the joke aspect and ignore the content. The bolded words should help cue them for the dvar torah involved.

    The bold syllable in "rescue" was to make the rhyme work.