Increasing joy

Yesterday marked Rosh Chodesh, the “head of the month”, marking the beginning of Adar I. This year, the shanah meuberet, is a leap year in which the Jewish calendar holds 13 months instead of 12. During this year we gain Adar I, inserted before the regular month of Adar (know this year as Adar II). According to The Jewish Woman, the month of Adar is a month of joy, as it is written in the Talmud, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simchah,” “When Adar enters, we increase joy” (B. Ta’anit 29a).

This increase in joy, I am learning, comes after a decrease in joy during Av, as the ninth day of Av marks the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Being here in Israel, having stood watching men and women praying at the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall), I have a different appreciation for the grief that comes for many in standing before those large stones – remnants of the Temple. The ninth of Av marks the destruction of a holy place; a center of Jewish faith.

And yet faith continues despite the destruction of the Temple. Faith endures loss.

A perspective from the Chasidic Masters suggests that it is more than faith that allows us to enter Adar with joy having experienced the sadness of Av, it is how faith informs our frame of reference and how we choose to live out that frame.  The Talmud asks that we bless G-d for the bad just as we bless G-d for the good. We can choose to live this instruction out in three ways:

  1. We ignore the Talmud’s instruction: With each “good” experience acknowledge that it is good and thank G-d. And, with every “bad” experience, we acknowledge the experience is bad. We lament, question or berate G-d for the experience. We feel resentful and may question our faith.
  2. We literally interpret the Talmud’s instruction: With each “good” experience acknowledge that it is good and thank G-d. And, with every “bad” experience, we acknowledge the experience is bad but still thank G-d for the experience.
  3. We reframe the Talmud’s instruction: With each “good” experience acknowledge that it is good and thank G-d. And, with every “bad” experience, we acknowledge the experience as good because it is an experience. And, we thank G-d, for allowing us to experience life.

It is in this third living out of the Talmud’s instruction that we can live out our faith in a manner that increases our joy daily.

I do not think this living reframe is easy. I struggle with it a lot and have this past month.

For instance, Boston has seen over seven feet of snow fall in the past few weeks. This has led to cold walks, difficult roads, long commutes due to broken transit systems and overcrowded roads- at times over two hours to get to and return from work. The arctic cold following each snow has led to ice dams on roofs, which has encouraged melting of water through warm walls and window frames, resulting in drips and wet floors and disrupted living situations. My partner and I relocated to a hotel for two nights. Industrial fans have been running in our home for over seven days and still my spouse’s wall is wet. I have lamented these days of snow. Groaned with each forecast over three inches. Grumped with the mere idea of going to work. Overall, I have fallen quickly into the first frame and actively lamented the experience. I questioned G-d for the disruption, for the snow, for the “bad” experience.

There have been moments in which I have lived out frame 2. Those moments when I paused amidst shoveling the garden path, sweaty and tired, my arms and back aching, and noticed the snow. Noticed my even breaths. Acknowledged the strength and stamina of my muscles. Opened my eyes to the lightly drifting flakes and my ears to the pure, beautiful silence. I those moments I have taken in the mounting snow, the stress of the situation, the small graces and acknowledged to G-d that this experience is “bad”- constant snow is tiring and tiresome. And I have thanked G-d for the experience anyway.

I have not yet made it to frame 3. I have not thanked G-d for the snow because it is good. Because it exists and I exist within it. I have not yet reimagined the frame. My faith has not survived the perceived loss I have experienced due to snow.

***

This morning, with the rain lightening over Ma’ale Adummim, I decided to reimagine the frame for just a few moments. At the time, I was alone. My partner, sis-in-law, and her children had left for the local store. I’d been struggling with feeling stuck inside due to the weather. I felt like I’d lost out. I was lamenting- again- the weather and G-d’s timing. A loss of experiencing Israel. In my lamenting, I felt sad and sick of myself. And it was in that feeling I realized that my faith was not surviving my perceived loss, and that I needed to change my frame.

So, like all sensible people, I had a conversation with myself:

“You’re in Israel. G-d brought you to Israel on a journey that began years ago. An arrival in Boston. Graduate school. Rabbi Somers. An introduction to Judaism. A job. A marriage. A divorce. A boi. Challah. Mayan Tikvah. A commitment. A second family. Israel.

So, it’s raining slightly. So you can’t go back to Yad Vashem. So you’re not getting back into Jerusalem, or to Tel Aviv, or to the Dea Sea. So you can’t drive the car. You feel you’ve lost out. So what?

You’re in Ma’ale Adumim and you have legs. G-d has given you all of these things this Rosh Chodesh. It’s the new month. The month of joy. And in all of these moments you have a chance to live within it.”

I changed my clothes. Strapped on my shoes. Donned my partner’s spare hoodie and began to leave. Upon my leaving they were returning – my partner with coffee for me. I was thankful, but I didn’t know how to say it. I was transitioning between the frames. In limbo between, “Poor sad me who grumped and complained and hid away and feels shame in it” and “Hopeful me who realizes that these are all experiences that I can be thankful for because I am living within them. That I am not perfect, my experiences are not perfect, and that is perfect because faith in G-d is imperfectly perfect.” Yet, I didn’t know how to say that aloud over the exchanging of coffee.

On my solo walk around Ma’ale Adumim I allowed myself to get lost in the views of Jerusalem, the settlement houses, a companion street cat who walked me to the museum and through her neighborhood. I got lost in the wind and sun, the warmth of exercise and my resultant thirst. I lost myself in thank you and praise and appreciation. And, when I rounded the corner and found myself at my sister-in-law’s home, I was ready to return.

She greeted my return with quiet joy. With warm challah. With appreciation I’m not sure that I deserved. And I was thankful to G-d.

This Adar, my challenge is to increase joy. To celebrate increasing joy. To live increasing joy. To reimagine the frame. To understand that by existing- within the “good” and the “bad”- I am living within increasing joy.

Rosh chodesh and Shabbat shalom.

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