From The Rabbi’s Desk

BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED

Susan Elkodsi

The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Ta’anit (fast days) quotes the Mishnah, which teaches that “from when we enter [the Hebrew month of] Av, we diminish joy. This makes sense, because the 9th day of Av is called Tisha B’Av, and on that day we fast, pray and recite the book of Eicha (Lamentations) mourning the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies that befell the Jewish people on that day. The first nine days of Av are days of semi-mourning; traditional Jews refrain from activities including eating meat, washing clothes, swimming and drinking wine.

However, remember the song “To Life, L’Chaim” in Fiddler? “… God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor…”? We are commanded to rejoice in our festivals, to observe Shabbat as a delight, and to live with joy.

The Talmud, expanding on the statement in the Mishnah, continues: “Rabbi Yehudah, son of Rabbi Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in Rav’s name: “Just as from when we enter Av we diminish joy, so from when we enter Adar, we increase joy.” This doesn’t mean six months of joy and six months of sadness; rather, it reminds us of the cyclical nature of life, it’s ups and downs, happy times and sad times.

Mi she-nichnas Adar marbin b’simcha … “One who enters Adar increases joy.” Why? Two reasons. According to our great sage and commentator Rashi, it’s because Adar begins two months of miracles for the Jews – Purim and Passover. A second reason comes from the same tractate in the Talmud, “To give to you a future and hope.” This comes from the prophecy of Jeremiah, who prophesied in Jerusalem just before the Babylonian conquest and subsequent exile. The Jewish people who are going to be exiled are commanded by God to create a life in their new land, and to not merely mourn for the loss of the Temple and their land.

Not that I would look forward to going into exile, but I do see the wisdom: “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives, and father sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give husbands to your daughters, that they may bear sons and daughters – so you will be increased there and not diminished.” To me, this is a biblical version of the idea, “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Conditions aren’t always optimal, and life is full of challenges. How we view these challenges – and even tragedies – determines in large part how we will overcome them and continue. What God wanted for the exiles was to create a community in Babylon and to thrive there, much like we here in the U.S. have set up our sacred communities, built synagogues and created lives for ourselves.

Judaism was never meant to be a solo endeavor; our practices and rules are set up to ensure that in our joy and in our sadness, we’re never alone. And even though we can stay home and watch Shabbat evening services on TV, or join in a class online, there’s nothing quite like being in the same room together learning, praying, socializing and creating connections. As we enter the month of Adar 2 in this leap year, may our Purim celebrations bring us together for joy, and may we be blessed to joyfully join together as we celebrate Passover.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi