Be Happy, it’s Adar!
February 18, 2011
One of the most peculiar customs we have surrounds the onset of this Hebrew month of Adar. This year we have two Adars, courtesy of the intricacies of the Hebrew calendar which adds an extra month seven years out of nineteen. This is done to ensure that the lunar year, which determines the beginning of our months, exactly coincides with the solar year over the course of a nineteen year cycle. If we did not have this mechanism, our seasonal holidays, such as Pesach and Sukkot, would float throughout the year, much as Ramadan does in the Muslim calendar. The leap month guarantees that Rosh Hashanah will not vary by more than three weeks from year to year. That, however, is not the peculiar custom of which I am speaking.
The rabbis tell us that when Adar begins, happiness increases or, in popular parlance, we say “Be happy, it’s Adar!” Why do the rabbis tell us to be happy? Because Purim is just around the corner! If this was not a leap year, we would have observed Purim last night. In a leap year, we celebrate Purim in Adar II, exactly one month from tomorrow, on the fourteenth of Adar II. This, however, belies the question. How can we summon happiness upon demand? “If I am miserable on 29th of Shevat, how can I automatically be happy the next day, the 1st of Adar? The morass of life does not miraculously disappear just because the calendar turns over a new leaf on the wall…So how can our Tradition tell us to be happy on command? Jewish wisdom on happiness contains an oft-cited maxim from Pirkei Avot: Who are rich? They who are happy with their lot (hasameiach b’chelko). So maybe Adar is the time to be happy with our lot. But what if our lot is of the sort that should satisfy no one? The Rabbis could hardly have been advising the wretchedly poor to make the best of their circumstances. Persecuted people should never acquiesce to servitude. Sufferers from depression cannot be expected to rejoice in their chemical inability to find rejoicing.”
“For many of us, the advice to be happy is sound. Our culture constantly pressures us to get ahead, no matter how far ahead we already are. But at what cost! Endlessly striving to be more, make more, do more, and amount to more, can strip us of the happiness we have in the vain hope of obtaining the happiness we will never get.” We think that more, bigger, and younger is the key to our happiness. Since we can’t actually become younger, we’ll do our best to look and act younger. It is a vain pursuit, because no one can escape the rigors of age. What we learn as we get older is that as long as we can support ourselves and live without severe physical and emotional pain, we can be happy with our lot.
The key to happiness for many of us is found in meaningful work on behalf of something greater than ourselves- an institution, a faith, a people, or a cause whose mission we find important. A perfect example of this is the late Ernie Tyler, who passed away last week at the age of 86. Ernie worked as the umpire’s assistant at Camden Yards for fifty straight seasons and set a record for working 3,769 consecutive games. He voluntarily ended the streak in 2007 to attend Cal Ripken Jr.’s installation in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cal Ripken eulogized Ernie Tyler as “the true Iron Man.” “His job included assisting the umpires before, during and after Orioles games. He was also responsible for rubbing the game baseballs with mud so the surface would not be slick. He prepared about 350,000 baseballs during his career.” Scott McGregor, an Oriole pitcher for twelve seasons, eulogized Ernie Tyler as he said, “We couldn’t think of one thing that Ernie ever did wrong. His actions were always outstanding. He was always humble, always a friend. And he never wanted anything but what was best for everyone else.” He went on to say that “Maybe we should rename Camden Yards as Ernie Taylor Stadium because Ernie represented everything that every family in the City of Baltimore should want to stand for. Ernie has left us, but he will never die as he continues to impact lives for generations to come.”
Ernie imbued two of eleven children with his love of the Orioles. Two of his sons, Jim and Fred, manage the home and visiting team clubhouses at Camden Yards. We hope that Ernie will be very pleased with the Oriole’s progress this season as he watches the games from his box seat in his heavenly “Field of Dreams.”
Ernie’s example can be readily applied to us. On Purim, Queen Esther, an anonymous and secret Jew, throws in her lot with the Jewish people. Esther finds purpose, meaning, and yes, happiness in working on behalf of the Jews’ salvation. We know from countless studies that those who are involved in their communities are happier and live longer than those who are not. An important way to be satisfied with our lot is to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves and to work for its betterment. Let us, during these two months of Adar, become satisfied with our lot by becoming even more deeply involved with the life of this congregation, our people, and our city. I guarantee that if you do, this time next year you too can say, “Be happy, it’s Adar!”
1 Dr. Larry Hoffman, NY Jewish Week, February 4, 2011.
3 Washington Post, February 13, 2011.
4 Baltimore Sun, February 16, 2011.