This week's portion: Home (Terumah)
Welcome to the blogosphere, Reb Jeff

Entering Adar א

I mentioned a few days ago that 5771 is a leap year on the Jewish calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, where a "leap year" means that February 29th enters the picture, on the Jewish calendar a leap year means a whole extra month is added. In a leap year, there are two months of Adar, called Adar 1 and Adar 2. Or, in Hebrew, Adar א (Aleph) and Adar ב (Bet), since Hebrew letters double as numbers.

Why do we engage in these calendrical shenanigans? The Jewish calendar is metonic, also known as lunisolar. If our calendar were purely lunar, our festivals would move around the Gregorian calendar by a few days each year -- much as the festivals on the Muslim calendar do; that's why Ramadan moves by about 10 days each year. But the rabbis of the Talmud felt it was important that Pesach be in the spring, so they instituted a system whereby we add this extra "intercalary" month 7 years out of every 19, to ensure that our calendar is "re-set." (The Talmudic rabbis were, of course, operating in the northern hemisphere; it never occurred to them that for Jews in the global South, Pesach would fall in the autumn and Sukkot in the spring. To anyone reading this in the southern hemisphere, my apologies for our tradition's borealcentrism.) Anyway. This is a leap year! Which means there are two months of Adar this year.

I have two different teachings to offer on this front. First, from Rabbi Jill Hammer of Tel Shemesh: in Hebrew, a leap year is called me'uberet -- pregnant. There's a tradition which associates the 12 months of the ordinary calendar with the 12 tribes of Israel, each of which is linked with one of Jacob's sons, and associates this occasional 13th month with Dinah, Jacob's daughter. Rabbi Jill Hammer has written a powerful poem arising out of those ideas: Dinah's Month: Poem for Adar Aleph. She begins:

Adar Aleph is the month most often missing
as you are most often missing, your story
lacking like a year without a season,
your life events reduced
to a syrup of rape and vengeance,
a place to pour out anger...

It's a gorgeous poem; go and read.

And, taking an entirely different tack: Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center recently emailed out a beautiful teaching about Adar, and I want to share part of it with y'all. He writes:

The Adar we are about to proclaim is a strange Adar because it has no Purim -- yet that makes it the most Purimdik Adar of all. For by omitting Purim it is pretending not to be Adar. It is hiding behind a mask, just as we do on Purim, and the hiding actually reveals the deeper truth beneath the mask. In Megillat Esther, God hides – is never mentioned – and the name "Esther" itself echoes "nistar," hidden, just as she hides her identity in the palace so as to be more fully who she really is when the time comes.

We usually think "Adar Aleph" just means "the first Adar, "Adar 1." But it could also mean "the Adar of The ONE." The Adar that speaks through silence, through hiddenness, just as some say that the only sound God actually spoke at Sinai was the sound of the first letter, Aleph, of the first word, "Anokhi, I" – and the sound of the Aleph is silence. An open throat.

On the surface, Purim is a festival that's all about merriment and revelry. We wear costumes, we dress up as people who we are not, we swing loud noisemakers in synagogue to drown out the name of the bad guy in the story. It's Carnival-esque. And God is never once mentioned in the megillah, the scroll of Esther, which we read on that day.

On a deeper level, God is all over the megillah, the hidden Presence Who is never named but always felt. Look at the scroll itself in Hebrew and you'll note that many columns of text begin with the word המלך, "the king." Scanning the scroll, one sees "the king," "the king," "the king," again and again. On the surface, that king is Achashverosh; but he's a laughable ruler, barely in charge of anything. The real King in the story is the one who's never named. The real Jew in the story is the one whose identity is hidden. Reb Arthur sees wordplay between "Esther" and nistar, "hidden" -- a word which the Hasidic tradition also often applies to God.

I love Reb Arthur's idea that Adar 1 is the Adar of the א -- that silent letter in which the whole aleph-bet is mystically contained. That's the month we're entering today. What do you make of this koan that the aleph speaks through silence, that the hidden divinity is the divinity which may be most present, that sometimes the masks and veils we wear allow us to show who we most truly are?

And I love Reb Jill's suggestion that our years are pregnant with the stories of our ancestors, the tales we tell and the tales we keep silent in our own minds and hearts. What is growing in you this month as we move slowly toward (northern hemisphere) spring?