We are blessed to be a part of a religion that values and places great emphasis on happiness and joy. A common refrain is that one must be b’simcha whilst in the service of God, with Tehillim’s rather famous dictum of ivdu es HaShem b’simcha (100) as just one example. Indeed, a fundamental aspect of all holidays is that one must experience joy, with Purim being a day dedicated exclusively to just that.
Despite being so seemingly fundamental to Judaism, however, just what simcha is, and how one fulfills his or her obligation, is rather hard to precisely define. What does Chazal’s statement of mi’shenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha (Taanis 29a) really mean, and how is one to fulfill it?
Of Two Kinds
Without descending too much into a discussion of what defines “true happiness,” it should be readily apparent to all that happiness comes in two varieties: happiness of pleasure, and happiness of meaning. Fascinatingly, the Gemara seems to tend towards the former in its explication of how one is to fulfill the obligation of being b’simcha on Yom Tov, namely, via the consumption of meat and wine (two rather physical pleasures). This alone is reason enough not to be overly swift to dismiss one form of happiness in favor of the other. Both have their respective places within Jewish tradition. The Gemara’s explication of how one is to be b’simcha during the month of Adar, however, is quite odd. According to the Gemara, one should have any of his or her court cases tried during the month of Adar, and in this way, be b’simcha (Taanis 29b). Certainly, even amongst the most passionate of lawyers, this is nobody’s definition of happiness (of either variety). Why is this, of all things, chosen by the Gemara as the example of experiencing happiness during the month of Adar?
A Bride & Groom
There exists within the Jewish tradition a number of other laws pertaining to the feeling of happiness and joy. There is the great mitzvah of comforting mourners, or visiting the sick. There is also a mitzvah of being mesameach chasan v’kalah, bringing joy to a bride and groom. Let’s focus, for a moment, on this latter obligation.
If one is present at a wedding during which there is a sense that the bride and groom are in particular need of people fulfilling the aforementioned mitzvah, surely this would be a bad thing. What bride and groom on earth need people to make them happy? Are they not already happy? Indeed, is this not to be the happiest day of their lives? If this is not the case, is not something terribly wrong? Does there exist a mitzvah that makes less sense, is less necessary? Regardless of how much a particular guest enjoys the carving station, the bride and groom are meant to be the happiest people in the room! What need could there possibly be for people to make them happy?
R. Moshe Benovitz proposes, in the name of his father, that perhaps the bride and groom are, in fact, not quite as happy as they might seem. For the greatest joy in the world is certainty, but a wedding is fraught with sheer uncertainty. There is uncertainty that a spouse is “the one,” an uncertainty regarding the future, the couple’s home, their lives together. However hidden beneath the surface it may be, there is a tangible uncertainty and nervousness that pervades a wedding. An affirmation, then, by all those present that what the bride and groom are doing is indeed the correct decision, and good, adds to their certainty and simcha, and increases their assurance in what it is that they are doing. There is certainty to be gained via the mitzvah of being mesameach chasan v’kalah, and it could very well be quite helpful to a bride and groom.
There is another intriguing possibility as well. The mitzvah of being mesameach chasan v’kalah engages the couple in something larger than themselves. It brings them into something they never knew was there, and there is a joy in experiencing that. A bride and a groom are not alone anymore, but become at a wedding a part of a community and group, the Jewish people.
Trying a court case during the month of Adar brings one joy because there is something in the air — the history of the Jewish people during this fateful month — that one taps into. The power of the Jew to overcome his or her adversary is there in potential, and the act of trying a court case brings it into realia. It makes one a part of something larger than him or herself, and makes the past directly relevant. There was an extant undercurrent the whole time, but was heretofore not connected to. Tapping into the energy beneath the surface, and experiencing the aforementioned, is certainly a very real, and profound simcha.
Ad Delo Yada
The sentence that begins with “He got so drunk that he…” often concludes with some sort of action: “…jumped off the chair”, “…said something stupid”, or something similar. Yet the Gemara’s formulation of ad delo yada ends with a more passive state of drunkenness, the tapping into a mindset and framework larger than the single person tapping into it.
To fall back into something that runs through our lives, to tap into a community and the nation, is without question a very real form of simcha. There is a happiness and energy that has always existed, and is ever-present, that one taps into on Purim and during the month of Adar. Like a bride and groom on their wedding day, there exists an undercurrent of energy meant to carry through the rest of one’s life.
The simcha of Purim is not merely associated with doing things that we love or enjoy — though that certainly is a very large aspect of it — but with joining together with something deeper, something that has always been there in the background, and something we hope will come to the foreground and continue to carry us through the rest of our lives.