Adar and Happiness
Updated: Mar 17
This is a guest post by the very wise Keren Chazan; my friend. Enjoy.
Happiness… desired by most, illusive to many.
I’ve read a lot of people’s takes on happiness. Like many before, I’ve concluded that happiness is a by-product, it’s not something to be pursued in and of itself. This being the case, I believe that if we lead fulfilling, challenging, giving, creative, conscious, meaningful, authentic lives, happiness will naturally follow.
(Side bar – this is not for those people whose basic Maslow needs haven’t been met. I am not suggesting that someone without food and water will find happiness in their creativity while starving to death. So this theory assumes the fulfillment of those basic needs. Moreover, I am not so naïve as to ignore the Gladwellian finding that one’s happiness does increase proportionally with one’s money. However, the correlation stops at a certain level of economic comfort and it’s at that point precisely where the factors that I speak about become even more significant).
Ok, so this working theory of happiness seems pretty good. But, then we approach Chodesh Adar and are met with this challenge/suggestion/obligation – Mi shenichnas Adar marbim besimcha (One who enters Adar should increase their happiness).
Great! Awesome! But wait a minute? How am I supposed to do that? Especially after what we’ve just said about happiness being a byproduct and all.
I think that the mitzvot of Purim give us some hint of how we may increase our happiness, not just in Adar, but generally.
1. Hearing the Megilla: Aka - reflect on what could have been, what should have been. And how in fact things turned on their heads – Venahafochu! And we were redeemed. This is one major way to increase our happiness in our everyday lives – to recognize Hashem’s hand and the disaster we have been spared from. This cultivates gratitude which in turn leads to a greater sense of happiness (say the researches and also me, Keren Chazan). Hashem’s intervention is not going to be Pesach-esque – flashing in neon lights. It’s going to be Purim style, hidden, just as Hashem’s name is hidden in Megilat Ester.
Another side bar - I often reflect on this when people complain that there is no mention of Hashem in the declaration of Independence - just a hint – Tzur Yisrael. While this might have been a bedieved compromise – I think it‘a actually a deep secret for happiness for Jews – to first recognize the salvation you have experienced and then to see the Hashem behind the tzur yisrael, behind the hamelech.
Another aspect of happiness we can learn for the mitzvah of Megilla is the place of community and a sense of connectedness we derive from the Megilla experience. While it’s not a group mitzvah in the sense of say, eating Korban Pesach, I think the fact that not everyone owns a kosher Megilat Ester is not bedieved, but rather by design. It forces us to experience this feeling of gratitude to Hashem as a collective. And this shared experience leads to happiness. Everyone wants a sense of belonging and camaraderie – and a shared emotional experience is certainly an effective way to achieve that.
2. Matanot la’evyonim: There’s the classic, almost overly-used, however still mind-blowingly powerful vort, that giving leads to love. And there is substantial research that both giving and receiving love contribute to happiness.
3. Mishlaoch manot:
A) See above regarding giving and happiness and feeling a sense of connection to others.
B) Hashem could have just instructed us to visit friends.
But I think in davka commanding us to bring food, He is instructing us to bring something as earthly as nourishment for our physical bodies, and to use that as a means to connect to others. This leads to the idea of uplifting the mundane to have higher, spiritual end. This is not a novel idea. However, I don’t think people ever connect this idea to happiness. If we go back to the idea that happiness is a by-product of a meaningful life, and if we sanctify the material things in our world to have spiritual meaning, life will inevitably be more meaningful and, ipso facto, happier.
4. The Purim seuda: Many of the above mentioned ideas about giving, connecting and adding meaning to the mundane apply to the Purim Seuda.
But I’d like to take it a step further. I have always been perplexed by the Kabalistic idea that the gates of Shamayim are open to all our bakashot during the Purim seuda.
During neila. Sure. During the Purim seuda. Weird.
But then I realized – it’s really easy to be connected to Hashem and focused on our spiritual endeavors during the closing hours of Yom Kippur. We are on a spiritual high from spending the day clad in white like angels, separated from all forms of gashmius and distraction, focused solely on our Beloved – HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
During the Purim seuda our commitment to spiritual ends and uplifting the physical is both much harder and much more real. Yom Kippur is ke-purim – like Purim. So which one is more spiritual? To me the answer is clear – Purim.
To me, meaning, and by extension happiness, lies in the interface between the physical and spiritual.
So where does that leave us with – Mi shenichnas adar marbim besimcha? I think we can re-punctuate it as – Mi shenichnas adar marbim …. Besimcha! – Whoever enters Adar should increase (their mitzvot, their meaning, their connectedness, their sense of community, their giving, their receiving, their loving) (in conjunction) with happiness!
Purim sameach everyone!!!