Monday, February 11, 2013
Purim is an easy holiday to love, what with the costumes and the drinking, the heroes and the villains and the excuses for general levity. It's so easy to love, in fact, that I think it's also easy to overlook some of the more significant aspects of the holiday and some of the substantive mitzvot (commandments) that go along with it. Purim is very, very early this year (that is, in the Gregorian calendar; of course, in the Hebrew calendar, it's right on time), and it's coming up on Feb. 23. As it gets a little closer, I'll have some things to say about the holiday itself, but in the meantime, today marks Rosh Chodesh Adar, or the beginning of the month of Adar, the month in which Purim takes place, and it's a time for happiness.
The Talmud says, "When the month of Adar arrives, happiness increases." It's a nice sentiment, and one that I think a lot of us could benefit from during dreary February and amid the busy-ness and stress that seems to characterize the lives of many of my contemporaries. I always wonder, though, if this aphorism means that the world objectively becomes a happier place during this month, or if we have a greater responsibility during Adar to seek out happiness. Regardless of what position the rabbis intended, I'd like to propose that we each go after the second possibility and really try our hardest to think positively and find the good in the world, in ourselves and in our circumstances, at least for Adar, and maybe, if we can handle all those warm fuzzies, beyond.
Another great Jewish quote on happiness comes from Rebbe Nachman of Bretzlov, who said, "It is a great mitzvah to be happy always." This quote is so important to my husband that we had it printed on the inside of our wedding yarmulkes. I have similar qualms, though, wondering if he intended people to turn their backs on things that could infringe on that happiness, or if his challenge to all of us is to find ways to be happy in spite of the difficulties around us. Again, I think it's the latter, and I think that finding ways to be positive in the face of struggles is a strong position from which to face life, a healthier overall attitude and a whole lot harder than negativity.
It's easy to be stressed out. It's natural to respond to the question, "how are you?" with "busy" or "tired," or even a non-committal, "oh, you know" along with an eye roll (that might be one of my signature responses). Perhaps it's even comfortable to approach life as a pessimist rather than to be disappointed when things don't turn out or to be mocked by others as unrealistic. But today, as we head into Adar, think about what makes you genuinely happy. Cultivate those parts of your life. When something infringes on that happiness, ask yourself what you can do to experience happiness anyway. Ask yourself what you can do to facilitate happiness for others. In a few weeks, we'll put on costumes, we'll drink until we can't tell the difference between cursed Hamen and blessed Mordechai, we'll shake our groggers until our wrists are sore. In the meantime, let's try to increase our happiness, even a little, so that we can all help Adar live up to its reputation.
Be well, and be happy,