The Talmud teaches that when the month of Adar arrives, joy increases. (Taanit 29a)
This is such a curious statement. Does this mean that Adar is automatically a more joyful month that any other month? Does it mean that any challenges or difficult things we've been going through will just automatically transform in to joyousness? I don't think so. The sages teach that one meaning behind joy increasing in Adar is because of the holiday of Purim that falls during Adar and that we start preparing for Passover in Adar. The increased joy refers to Purim and Passover, our spring holidays. Both Purim and Passover are holidays of redemption, survival and freedom - and thus in the minds of the sages, these are joyous holidays, and in celebrating or preparing for them joy increases.
However, both Purim and Passover are complex holidays - yes they are joyous but the stories of both holidays are also violent, cruel, and complicated in some ways. So I prefer to focus on a different understanding of why and how joy increases in Adar.
I see the notion that our joy increases in Adar as a challenge -- an opportunity to become more aware of joy and to increase our chances of experiencing joy. I also believe that the main mitzvot or commandments of Purim can help us increase our joy - if we think about them in an expansive way.
1. One of the mitzvot of Purim is to send sweet gifts to friends or family called "Mishloach Manot". Often kids in religious school make little bags of hamentaschen Purim cookies and a piece of candy or fruit to give to classmates or family. Or families send them to their neighbors. I didn't grow up with this practice but I think the intention behind it - the concept of a sharing something sweet with those you care about - is really important. Even if you do not do the traditional mishloach manot, think about taking some time this month to reach out to those you care about. Send cards or notes or call the people who are important to you and give them a sweet message and see how joy it brings you and the other person. If you don't celebrate Valentines day, maybe this is a nice way to send some love.
2. A "Purim Seudah" or festival meal is another one of the mitzvot of Purim. Even if you don't have a traditional Purim meal, think about setting some time aside this month for some special meals with friends or family. Maybe you eat something sweet together, or cook together, or just have tea and share your news or reconnect. Having a sweet moment together, reconnecting with those you love, and making sure that the people who are important to you know you appreciate them is a beautiful way to increase our own feelings of gratitude and satisfaction.
3. One of the other mitzvot for Purim is called "Matanot Le'evyonim" which literally means gifts to the poor. This comes from the statute that you must make sure that even those poorest in your community have enough to have a Purim feast or meal of celebration. Even if you do not know who the people are in your community that are in need, this is a good reminder and opportunity to think beyond ourselves. Take some time this month for increasing acts of service or charity, or making a donation to an organization that provides for people in your community. Recognizing our blessings and sharing with others can be another beautiful and sacred way to increase our own gratitude and joy this month.
4. The fourth mitzvah of Purim is hearing the Megillah (scroll of the story of Purim) read aloud. To me this is problematic in a lot ways because not only because not everyone can hear but also because the book of Esther that is read on Purim is more actually more Brothers Grimm than Disney fairytale and doesn't really inspire joy for me. However, an expansive way to think about this is to learn or read for the sake of personal growth or pleasure. Maybe there is a favorite book you had a child that brought so much joy. This is a great time to find that book and re-read it. Or maybe there is a book you've been wanting to read for your own edification or to learn something new. The value of learning is one of the most important Jewish values. Or maybe you love to read for pleasure and haven't had much time so perhaps this month you make some extra time just to get cozy with a mug of your favorite warm beverage and get out that book you've been wanting to read.
5. The last one I will add is not one of the traditional mitzvah associated with Purim but something else I will encourage you to do this month to increase your joy. Tap into your creative side! Think about the ways you might have really enjoyed getting creative or messy as a kid and let yourself experience that again. Or maybe there is a new medium you've wanting to explore. See what can happen with you give self a chance to express yourself in new ways! (Of course, there are lots of ways to be creative with both Purim and Passover from costumes to performances and writing your own songs to act out the story).
There are many other ways to increase our joy. What are the ways in which you might find more opportunities for joy this month? How might you increase your awareness of joy or share it with others?
Wishing you a meaningful celebration of Purim no matter how you celebrate and month of increased joy!