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Parsha Terumah

February 25, 2015

The Power of 9 Adar
Terumah, 5775
Shmuel Herzfeld

The Talmud teaches us mi-shenichnas adar marbin ba-simcha, when the month of Adar comes our joy increases (Taanit, 29a). Rashi (ad. loc.) explains that this is because Adar is a month “filled with days of miracles” in which miraculous events happened, the most famous of which is Purim. For this reason, for example, the Talmud says it is considered an especially good time to begin a lawsuit. Obviously, a lawsuit is always a last resort, but if one does need to go to court, this is considered the best time to do so (Taanit, 29b).

Even though most people associate the joy of Adar with the miraculous events surrounding the holiday of Purim there are actually other very special days in this month as well.

There is an ancient work known as Megillat Ta’anit which lists 35 minor holidays from the Temple period on which it was forbidden to fast and eulogize. (Many of these holidays are cited in BT tractate Ta’anit.) These holidays are no longer observed in our time, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim. A significant number of those days fall out in the month of Adar and thereby reinforce this idea of Adar as a special month.

Thus, on 12 Adar we celebrate Turyanus Day, on which a Roman governor who tried to persecute the Jews was eliminated (Ta’anit, 18b. ) On 13 Adar, we remember The Day of Nikanor, on which a Jew hating Greek governor, who cursed the Holy Temple and tried to destroy it, was neutralized. On 17 Adar we celebrate the escape of Jews from the evil plans of King Yannai (Ta’anit, 18b). On 20 Adar we celebrate the miracle that happened with Choni the circle-maker and how he caused it to rain for the Jewish people (Tannit 19b). On 28 Adar the Greek decrees against the Jews were nullified (Taanit 18a). If we add in the two days of Purim we have a total of seven holy days.

But wait there is more. On seven Adar we observe the birthday and the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu (Sotah, 12b). And there is also the 9th day of Adar, which we will talk about in a little while.

If there was ever a time in which we needed the increased joy and fortune of the month of Adar, it is this year. Over the past few weeks we have seen frightening attacks upon the Jews of Europe. Scary attacks that have dominated the headlines of world news—an attack upon a kosher supermarket in Paris, vandalizing graves in France, and this week an attack upon a synagogue in Denmark in which the Jewish volunteer security guard guarding the synagogue was murdered.

I especially want to mention this security guard’s name. It was Dan Uzan and he was guarding a bat mitzvah. He died al Kiddush Hashem; he died as a Jew protecting other Jews and we should all hold him in our thoughts this Shabbat.

This year we must acknowledge that as the month of Adar arrives, European Jews are living in great fear. Thousands of soldiers, fully armed, and ready for battle are being deployed inside the synagogues and schools to protect the Jews of France. It is great that the country is offering protection, but my Gd, what a horror that is unfolding before our eyes. In this context, we pray that the month of Adar be a good mazal for all.

But just praying for good mazal and hoping for an increase in joy is not sufficient. Whenever the Jewish people are under siege there needs to be a political response and a security response. Many people are working in these two areas. But let us also remember that we should have a spiritual response.

We can draw inspiration from the Purim story as to what a spiritual response might look like in the face of these horrible attacks upon European Jewry.

In the Purim story, the Jewish people were attacked when there was disunity and dispersion amongst our people. Haman begins his anti-Jewish pitch to Achashverosh by saying, “There is one nation that is scattered and spread out amongst the people, am echad mefuzar umefurad” (Esther 3:8). The leadership of the Jewish people are bickering. Esther is upset that Mordechai is embarrassing her by wearing a sackcloth and protesting illegally outside the king’s palace (4:2-5). This is why Esther sends clothing to Mordechai to dress him. He is embarrassing her with his street theater.

On the other hand, salvation comes to the Jewish people when they realize that they are all in this together. The Purim story reminds us that one of the best responses to an attack on a Jew is to emphasize Jewish unity and to recognize that when one Jew is attacked all Jews are attacked. Mordechai reminds Esther of this when he says to her that she should not think that she alone out of all the Jews will survive (4:13).” In response, Esther says to Mordechai: “Kenos kol hayehudim, Go and gather all the Jews of Shushan and fast for me and don’t eat and drink for three nights and days” (4:16).

Why specifically was Mordechai told to gather the Jews of Shushan? Maybe it is because the Jews of Shushan were the most assimilated as evidenced from the fact that they partook in extra parties. Maybe since they were in the capital city they felt that they could use their political connections and escape the decree of Haman which would only affect the less connected Jews.

This is the underlying message of Esther’s command to Mordechai. Even before there could be a political response predicated upon Esther approaching the king, there needed to be a spiritual response centered on Jewish unity and the recognition that we are all in this together. Gather the Jews, fast for me. This is a spiritual response intended to achieve unity and arouse empathy amongst the Jewish people of Shushan for the scary situation facing their brothers and sisters.

And indeed, after the immediate danger of Haman passes, this spiritual response of unity and empathy becomes the essence of the way that the surviving Jews celebrate their salvation. They throw “parties” (mishteh), “send gifts to their friends: (mishloach manot ish le-reieihu), and give gifts to the poor” (matanot le’evyonim). These are all actions intended to bring a greater sense of unity and empathy to the Jewish nation.

Thus, the underlying message of the Purim story is that the more disunity amongst the Jewish people, the more vulnerable we are. And any response to an attack upon the Jewish people should begin with a spiritual response recognizing that there are steps we can take in order to foster greater unity and empathy.

In this context there is a nascent movement being organized by the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution to reclaim another day in the month of Adar, the ninth of Adar.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 580) writes that it is a custom to fast on the ninth of Adar because on that day Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel argued.

I admit that I never in my life fasted on this date and I think it would be a hard sell to convince others to start fasting on 9 Adar.

But lets first understand what this day is about and then see what the Pardes Center is organizing.

The Megillat Ta’anit (chapter 13) lists 9 Adar as a day worthy of fasting upon because that is the day that Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel argued. One of the earliest commentators on the Shulkhan Arukh, R. Moredhai Yaffe, in his Levush, argues that the reason this day became a fast day is because it was on this day that arguments began between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. Another commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, R. Eliyahu Shapira (1660-1712, Eliyah Rabbah, ad. loc) suggests that it was not the fact that argument began that was the problem, but rather the destructive way in which this argument took place. He argues that on 9 Adar three thousand students died as a result of a specific argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. This day is possibly the day that the Talmud is referring to when it suggests that one of the days in which Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel argued was worse than the day of the Golden Calf (Shabbat, 17a). So the ninth of Adar was decreed as a fast day because it was a day in which Talmudic debate descended into murder and holy scholars killed each other over a disagreement in Jewish law. (See the discussion of this by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth: )

The Pardes Center for Conflict Resolution had the idea to start a Nine Adar group –this year Shabbat February 28 -- to turn this day from a day of destructive conflict into a day of peaceful and constructive dialogue amongst differing groups.

I love this idea and think it is something that we as a synagogue and as individuals should involve ourselves in.

We should follow their lead on this as part of our spiritual preparation for purim and as a way of fostering greater harmony and unity in the world as part of our spiritual response to the rise in attacks upon the Jewish people.

But there is another reason why I am drawn to the concept of Nine Adar that goes beyond feeling a sense of unity with the Jews of Europe. It has to do very much with the Jewish community of DC and how we as a community can respond in a productive manner to the fact that a person who was a rabbi in the Orthodox community for decades just plead guilty to very serious crimes.

This is obviously a difficult time for many people in our community. Some are closer to the pain than others, but all of us feel disturbed in some way or another.

Personally speaking, I always felt a distance from this rabbi that was partially connected to the manner in which we disagreed. I don’t regret that I never had a good relationship with him but I do feel sadness that that frosty that relationship also spilled over to a much lesser degree into the communal institutions we associated ourselves with. This is regrettable, but it is also fixable.

Perhaps as a response to recent events we can take a day and focus on the proper way to conduct ourselves when disagreeing about manners of communal importance.

The way I understand Nine Adar and conflict resolution, does not mean that we are not allowed to disagree ever. It just means that when we disagree we do so from a place of respect. This is why we were founding members of the new Beltway Vaad. We believe strongly in our views and we believe that through this new Vaad we will present our positions in a way that ultimately will bring more harmony and less hurtful conflict to our community. Disagreement is fine. It is hurtful and disrespectful disagreement that is problematic.

Ninth of Adar can be a turning point in helping us to raise awareness in our own selves of how we disagree with others and how we present ourselves when we are in conflict. The message of Nine Adar is that we disagree with love and respect for the other and that that will ultimately make us all stronger.

The holiest space in the entire world is the space between the keruvim. The keruvim sat on top of the ark and they faced each other. The Torah tells us that when Hashem spoke to the world, His voice came down and entered through the space between the keruvim. Yet, it also tells us that when the Jewish people do the will of Gd, the keruvim hold each other in a tight embrace -- meurin zeh bazeh. (See commentary of Torah Temimah, 25: 18, note 23, who explains that they were physically embracing, and see also tractate Yoma, 54a.) In other words when there is harmony in the world, the harmony occupies the space in which Gd’s voice enters the world.

Let us make this our goal. We should walk in the spirit of 9 Adar and be meurin zeh bazeh. On 9 Adar, we should reflect upon how we disagree and if we do so in an effective and constructive manner. We should remind ourselves that if we want to truly increase joy in the month of Adar we should think about how we can move from being a nation that is identified as mefuzar umefurad, into one that is identified with mishloach manot ish le-reiehu.

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