Today, Adar begins. Our rabbis teach: when Adar enters, joy increases. Does it really? Is there something tangible we can do that will make us happier during these days?
Our world is changing quickly. Studies show that social media diminishes happiness in new ways. Our brave new world gives us a constant look at what we don’t have. In this world of likes and popularity, young people are ever more likely to cite fame as a desired goal.
When young people feel “unliked” the results can be disastrous. Teen suicide is on the rise. A couple of years ago, a 13-year-old girl took her life in California after being bullied on social media. She left her family an apology note for being ugly.
Perhaps our society had taken steps backwards in understanding what will bring true satisfaction – and we are not impervious to these problems. As we start the days of Adar, what can we do that will promote true joy?
Dining on G-d’s Presence
As we prepare for the festivities of Purim, consider the following feast. When Moshe, Ahron, Nadav and Avihu ascended Sinai, they beheld an enigmatic image. It was the image of a brick that was “like the essence of heaven for purity.” As they gaze upon this tantalizing image, the Torah remarks:
And they gazed at G-d and they ate and they drank…(Shemot, 24, 11)
What does it mean to gaze upon the presence of G-d as you eat and drink? Was this some kind of Shul BBQ? According to Ramban and others, YES indeed! The nobles were literally eating from sacrifices that were brought to celebrate the giving of the Torah. Yet, the Talmud takes a different approach and suggests that this not was a meal as you as we know it. The Talmudic sage, Rav teaches:
The world to come is not like this world. In the world to come, there is no eating, no drinking, no business, no jealousy, no hatred and no rivalry. Rather, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the Divine presence as it says, ‘they gazed at HaShem and they ate and they drank’.(Brachot, 17a)
This Talmudic passage understands the scene as a model of what the next world is like. These nobles “dined” upon the divine presence. They weren’t enjoying a grill, but rather the presence of the Creator. The idea is interesting enough, but hard to relate to. What does it mean to take pleasure from G-d’s presence?
I once knew a person who gave me an inkling of what this means.
Before his tragic death in the Har Nof massacre, Rav Moshe Twersky was a towering Torah luminary. The first time that I met him was in the summer of 1997. He showed up from Israel to his father’s Shteeble in Brookline, MA where I often Davened. Beholding him there, I felt a need to ask an earth-shattering question, but I couldn’t come up with one.
An Underlying Joy
A couple months later, I arrived in Jerusalem and began to study in his Shiur (Talmud Class), where we learned the third chapter of Bava Metzia. This is a chapter that delves into seven verses in the Torah that address the topic of entrusted objects. Trust me, for Rav Moshe Twersky, these technical civil laws were not dry!
He had a palpable sense of joy from the words of Torah. He was fully animated and alive through every step in the “give and take” of the Gemara. When you asked him a question, his eyes lit up.
Rav Twersky was the opposite of a Hollywood personality. He had no interest in fame or fortune. At the time of my engagement, he asked me why I missed a number of his classes. I explained that I had to take multiple buses to various neighborhoods in Jerusalem to find used furniture for my new apartment. This was a bit curious to him, given that he and his wife survived for many years without a couch.
Underlying it all, there was a satisfaction in his life, a deep connection that to Torah wisdom. The night before his was killed, he toiled late into the night learning Torah…
The World to Come
Dining together is an experience of joy. When the nobles of the Jewish people stood at Sinai, they ate and they drank. They dined upon the divine presence. They had a connection to G-d through the wisdom of the Torah.
This idea seems so out of our world. Is it something we can experience? According to the Talmud, in the world to come, we all get together and “dine” on G-d’s presence. It’s an intense kind of joy. As the Mishna remarks:
Better one hour of spiritual bliss in the next world than the entire life in this world.(Avot)
Intense as it is in the next world, that joy begins in this world, in our own lifetime. The nobles of Israel experienced the feast at Sinai. We continue that experience in our days. Sometimes we meet a person whose life is animated by the love and pleasure of Torah learning. To see Rav Twersky learn Torah, was to behold an intense kind of happiness.
We too can relate to deeper kind of joy. Have you ever climbed a mountain and looked out at the landscape and felt like it was yours? Have you ever beheld a close friend and realized, suddenly, that you were connected in a deep way?
Have you ever had a moment of learning Torah wisdom when it enters you deeply? In that moment, there can be a feeling that learning Torah is not the same as secular wisdom, that you are becoming filled with the spirit of HaShem.
Through the Torah learning and community building of this month, we come to a deeper kind of joy.
Last week, someone told me that the main reason they became Jewish is because the Jewish people gave him a profound experience of community he never knew before.
I reflected on this same idea last year when delivering one of the baskets from the Kesser Mishloach Manot Project. I brought the gift to someone who was experiencing a hard time in his life. It was a dank Portland day. I showed up and was invited into his kitchen. I felt the room light up with the presence of our community in the form of the Mishloach Manot.
The days of Adar are a time when light increases. It’s a time we begin to touch a deeper spirit, an enduring joy that does not diminish with the passage of time.
Let the Simcha seep in.