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February 21, 2013

By Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman

Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simhah tamid-It is a great mitzvah to always be happy.
-R. Nachman of Bratslav

The light is ascending, spring approaches, the season of ge’ulah, of redemption, is upon us and therefore Joy is required! The essence of the celebration of Purim is Joy. The month of Adar is mentioned in the Talmud with the statement: mi’she’nikhnas Adar marbin b’simhah (Ta’anit: 29a)- When the month of Adar begins, one should increase joy. This is contrasted with a previous statement that when the month of Av begins, we should decrease our joy.

The month of Av brings the fast day of Tisha b’Av in which the destruction of both Temples is memorialized. It is a period of mourning over the exile of the Jewish people and subsequent experiences of persecution through the ages. In contrast, Adar presents an alternate reality- one of ge’ulah- redemption in the face of near destruction. Rashi (Taanit 29a) sees the joy of Adar as connected to the miracles of Purim as well as Pesah. Adar heralds the season of redemption. Joy is an imperative. The wisdom of our tradition teaches that there is indeed, a time for every purpose under the sun. (Eccl. 3:1) There is a time for mourning and a time for rejoicing.

When we experience grace, our joyful response conveys that we have received the gift and that we are grateful. The energy of abundant goodness flows through us and is spontaneously expressed through joy. Our emotional expressions have a direct affect on others. There is nothing more contagious than laughter. Sharing a kind word, a smile, a positive attitude lifts the spirits of others in immeasurable ways.

Our tradition teaches us that a primary obligation of the celebration of Purim is to share our joy with others, to “pay it forward.” The celebration of Purim includes four mitzvot, each of which embodies an aspect of sharing joy with others and increasing it. The mitzvah of reading/hearing the Megillah of Esther is fulfilled only in community. Women, men and children are all obligated to hear the Megillah and this mitzvah is fulfilled in the presence of a minyan. In this way the miracle is publicized throughout the community. Mishteh– Sharing a festive meal with one’s family and community is another mitzvah of Purim that communicates shared joy. Our joy overflows to others as we share mishloah manot– gifts of tasty treats to our friends and community. Finally, our exuberance must flow out to those less fortunate by giving gifts to the poor- matanot la’evyonim. In all these ways, we become active participants in the flow of abundance that begins with a story, with a consciousness of redemptive joy and which we then extend out into the world through our actions. The hesed – the grace which we have experienced and which we relive ever year must flow through us and touch others in the present moment. In this way, we become redemptive agents of hesed.

The Torah teaches v’samachta b’hagekha – You shall rejoice in your feast… (Deut. 16:14) referring to the feasts of the three pilgrimage festivals- Pesah, Shavuot and Sukkot. Notwithstanding the many physical obligations associated with these festivals, the obligation to rejoice is considered equal to them all. Joy is a requirement and a necessity.

It has been taught that the experience of joy may have physical, psychological and emotional benefits. In a 2004 study by Tugade, Frederikson and Barrett, the researchers concluded that positive emotions such as joyfulness play a crucial role in enhancing coping resources in the face of negative events. The history of the Jewish people encompasses the polarities of Tisha b’Av and Purim, experiences of persecution and celebrations of redemption. Given our history, the rhythmical return to joyful celebration throughout the calendar cycle can be understood not only as an experience of sweetness but as a primary survival tool.

Joy connects us to God and connects us to others. It is infectious and expansive.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.)

In this season of renewal may we each expand joy in ourselves and share that light with others. In this way, may we bring redemption to our own souls and the souls of all those who surround us.


Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman is the Founder and Director of Rimon: Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality in Great Barrington, MA www.rimonberkshires.org. She is also a Co-Founder and Co-Leader of The Berkshire Minyan- a trad/egal minyan that meets every Shabbat morning in Great Barrington.