I delivered this d’var Torah at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Reconstrucionist Rabbinical Association on March 6, 2022.
Thank you for this opportunity and this honor, and so good to be with colleagues today.
We have just passed Rosh Chodesh Adar 2, since this year being a leap year in which we add an extra month in order to balance out the lunar foundation of our calendar with the solar necessity of holidays falling in their due season. And by gathering here at this time, we have answered the question: when we are in a leap year, in which month—Adar 1 or Adar 2—do we hold the RRA Annual Meeting? The answer is, of course, March.
The answer was not so clear cut to our Talmudic rabbis when they needed to determine in which month we would celebrate Purim. Do we hold it in Adar 1, or Adar 2? In the Book of Esther we read,
Mordecai recorded these events. And he sent dispatches to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus, near and far, charging them to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar, bechol shanah v’shanah, each and every year—Esther 9:20-21
These last words, bechol shanah v’shanah, are, for the rabbis, proof that no matter which month they choose, it has to be the same every year. So again, Adar 1 or Adar 2? And in good talmudic fashion, there is a machlochet.
In the pages of Tractate Megillah, on daf 6b, Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi said that since Adar follows Shevat, then even in a leap year Purim should be celebrated in the month that follows Shevat, i.e. Adar 1. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel argued that since Adar precedes Nissan, then even in a leap year Purim should be celebrated in the month that precedes Nissan, i.e. Adar 2.
Both of these calendrical arguments make logical sense, so what are the values that underlie them? To Rabbi Yossi, it is that one should not put off the performance of a mitzvah. To delay the celebration of Purim by a whole month would be an unnecessary delay. On the other hand, to Rabbi Shimon, mismach geulah l’geulah adif—to juxtapose one redemption to another is preferable. It is better to celebrate Purim closer to Passover, as these two holidays are linked by their themes of miracles and rescue and liberation and redemption. And we know which argument wins out, we celebrate Purim in Adar 2, and thus validate this concept of mismach geulah l’geulah adif.
On their face, they seem like very different forms of redemption. Purim celebrates the rescue of one Jewish community, Passover marks the liberation of the entire am yisrael. On Purim rescue comes from the ingenuity and courage of human actors, on Passover the events are orchestrated by God acting through history. We celebrate Purim through frivolity and excess consumption, we celebrate Passover through serious reflection and avoidance of a whole category of foods.
And yet, the rabbis in discussing the calendar, link these two festivals. Therefore, rather than thinking of them as two stand-alone holidays, we need to think of this upcoming period as a season of redemption that begins with the frivolity of Purim and culminates in the seriousness of Passover. Indeed I would suggest, by linking the two, mismach geulah l’geulah, our tradition is suggesting that redemption itself, either personal or communal, requires both solemnity and silliness, plagues and punchlines. Personal redemption is possible only if we work hard at positive change and have the ability to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. Communal redemption is only possible if we not only throw down our staffs at the seats of power, but we have a fun time doing it.
I believe if we have learned anything over these past two years of the pandemic, it is that it has to be this way. From now on we will recall that Adar welcomes not only Purim but the anniversary of when the world shut down in the face of the pandemic. These past two years for us as rabbis, as the Jewish people, have been ones of loss, of stress, and of struggle. But they have also been one of innovation, and creativity, and—dare I say it—at times, fun. If we get through this period thinking only of what we have lost rather than what we have gained, then we will have missed an opportunity for post-pandemic redemption.
For ultimately, Mismach geulah l’geulah adif is a reminder not to think in binaries. Everything is one, everything is connected. There are no opposites. And yet, in our working lives, we continue to think in those terms. Forgive me God, but I think we as rabbis would be better off having a few hours of Shabbat every day rather than 25 once a week. We need to put aside the idea of “work-life balance”—a challenging image because of its implied false division and the general precariousness of trying to keep something in balance—in favor of something more holistic.
Rather we should strive for everything at all times. This might mean doing things we don’t like to do—like saying “no,” or lowering our expectations, or rejecting the capitalist emphasis on productivity. But sometimes these are necessary. The whole world is a very narrow bridge, yes, but do we have to stop at just not being afraid? Can’t the ikar also be to enjoy the view? Again, how can the spirit of Purim and Passover be in everything that we do?
But luckily, we are not alone in our struggles and desires for wholeness. For we can also read mismach geulah l’geulah as connecting the idea of redemption not only between holidays or themes, but between each other. We would do well to remember that redemption is interconnected. My redemption is bound up in yours, and yours in mine. And it is in that kavannah that we join together today as an association of rabbis—facing the same challenges with the same set of values and interests trying to figure it all out in a spirit of mutual support.
And as we recited yesterday when we concluded the book of Exodus: hazak hazak venithazek: though the hazak of Purim, and the hazak of Passover, may we all be strengthened, and redeemed.