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Nissan

by Rabbi Berel Wein

The month of Adar is introduced to us by the famous statement that the Jewish people are marbin b’simcha – they are bidden to increase manifestations of joy. This is certainly understandable since the month of Adar contains within its days the great festive day of Purim and celebrates our deliverance from destruction and annihilation by the wicked Haman. If deliverance from national destruction is a cause for joy, and it certainly ought to be, then the month of Nissan should also have as its introductory note the phrase of marbin b’simcha. For the month of Nissan, with the great holiday of Pesach enshrined within it, is certainly the commemorative moment on the Jewish calendar. It contains within it our deliverance from Egyptian bondage and the seemingly inevitable destruction of the Jewish people. Therefore, if there is ever a moment of joy in the Jewish year, it certainly appears that Nissan and Pesach should occupy that role.

Yet, even in the description of the holidays of the Jewish year in our prayer services, Pesach is referred to as zman cheiruteinu – the time of our deliverance to freedom – while Succot is somehow called zman simchateinu – the time of our happiness and joy. Why is Pesach not known as zman simchateinu and why is there no recommendation for Nissan to be a time of marbin b’simcha? What greater joy can be occasioned than the deliverance from bondage and the achievement of national and personal freedom?

I am inclined to think that the answer to these questions lies in the essential differences between Purim and Pesach. Being saved from catastrophe floods us immediately with a feeling of joy and exultation. No demands are placed upon us. It is just simply that Haman is defeated and we are able to survive. Purim is a time of unbridled joy, a day when almost anything goes and is allowed. Costumes, satire, shpiels, drink and food, all of the things that are handled with restraint during the year are left unchecked on Purim. To a certain extent, Purim’s joy is aimless, if not even purposeless. Ad d’lo yoda – until one can no longer distinguish between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai – is the description of the joy of Purim.

The joy of Nissan and Pesach is not only of a different degree, it is of a completely different kind. Freedom in Jewish life means responsibility, goals, restraint, vision and sacrifice. If on Purim everything goes, on Pesach almost nothing goes. The dread of chametz, the restrictions of yom tov and chol hamoed, the realization that true freedom requires enormous self-discipline and a tenacious sense of purpose, these are the hallmarks of the joy of Pesach and Nissan. This type of joy requires effort, it is not spontaneous and it demands a mindset and preparation. As such, the phrases that characterize the almost purely emotional joy of Purim are not really appropriate when applied to Nissan and Pesach.

King Solomon in Kohelet had it right when he asked ulsimcha mah zu osah – and regarding joy, what does it accomplish? A joy that does not lead to accomplishments, to positive purposes and the achievement of immortal goals, is not a very purposeful emotion. If after the emotional high of joy one is in a state of ad d’lo yoda – of spiritual and mental chaos, then the joy is short-lived and almost counter productive in the long run of life and its events. The Jewish calendar thus places Adar and Nissan, Purim and Pesach, so to speak, back-to-back. The purposeful joy and celebration of Pesach redeems the ad d’lo yoda joy of Purim. Purim would remain, lhavdil, a type of mardi gras celebration without the immediate redemptive qualities of Pesach happiness and celebration that redefine its emotion of joy. Since the freedom of Pesach now modifies and describes all times of Jewish joy, Succot can be seen as zman simchateinu, since Pesach has already defined for us the true concept of joy as being purposeful and goal-oriented. In this spirit, as Nissan now comes upon us with blessings of springtime and Pesach in its wings, we can truly add to the welcome of Nissan the phrase of marbin b’simcha as well. Not the joy of Purim, unmodified and uncontrolled, but rather the joy of Nissan and Pesach, measured, restrained, purposeful and soulful. Nissan is seen as the harbinger of the ultimate redemption of Israel. Its type of joy and commitment is certainly the means by which we may hasten that great day of final redemption.

Shabat shalom.

Berel Wein

Reprinted with permission from rabbiwein.com

 






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