When Adar Enters, Joy Increases

The sages say that joy increases in Adar. From where do they derive this notion? Is there a biblical basis for the idea?


Calendar, Jewish Customs, PurimMar 9, 2016

CalendarMar 9, 2016


The Hebrew month of Adar is associated by joy and happiness because the Jewish people were saved from destruction during this month. (Image © Bigstock/Karaidel)

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Rosh Chodesh Adar comes twice this year. Adar is the twelfth month on the Jewish calendar, corresponding roughly to February-March. Once every two or three years, the Jewish calendar adds an extra month to the year to keep the lunar cycle synchronized with the solar year.

This year, instead of twelve months, we have thirteen months. When that happens, we repeat the twelfth month of the year, the month of Adar. That’s good news because, as the Talmud says, “When Adar enters, joy increases (משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה).” We can always use more joy.

Why does the Talmud say that joy increases in Adar? The statement comes in the midst of a discussion about the destruction of the Temple. The Temple was destroyed in the month of Av, the fifth month on the Jewish calendar, corresponding to late June and early July. During the month of Av, we undertake mourning rituals and fasting in memory of that tragedy. That’s why joy decreases in Av. But the same passage of the Talmud that tells about how joy decreases in the month of Av also states that joy increases in the month of Adar:

At the beginning of the month of Av, joy is decreased. Rav Yehudah the son of Rav Shmu’el ben Shilat said in the name of Rav, “Just as joy is decreased at the beginning of the month of Av, joy increases at the beginning of the month of Adar.” (b.Ta’anit 29a)

It’s easy to see why the sages stated that joy decreases in Av. The first nine days of the month of Av are dedicated to commemorating the destruction of the Temple. The ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha be’Av) is a day of fasting. The Bible calls it “the fast of the fifth month” (Zechariah 8:19).

What’s not so obvious is the reason that joy should increase in Adar. What made the sages associate the month of Adar with happiness and joy? The answer can be found by looking more closely at the sad occasion of the fast of Av. According to the Prophet Zechariah, when the Messianic Era comes and the Temple is rebuilt, the austere and solemn fast day on the ninth of Av will be transformed into a day of “joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah” (Zechariah 8:19). In that day, God will turn our “mourning into dancing,” removing our sackcloth and clothing us with gladness.

A similar transformation has already taken place in the month of Adar. When the wicked Haman cast lots (purim) to determine the most auspicious day for annihilating the Jewish people, the lots indicated “the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar” (Esther 3:7). The month of Adar was destined to become a month commemorating national tragedy, not unlike the tragic associations that decrease our joy during the month of Av. If Haman’s plan to carry out a genocide against the Jewish people had succeeded, we would fast and mourn in the twelfth month. Joy would decrease in Adar.

Thanks to God’s intervention through Esther and Mordechai, however, “the month [of Adar] … turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness” (Esther 9:22). These words are almost identical to the prophecy in Zechariah that says the fast of the month of Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple will be turned into a day of “joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts.”

Therefore, the happy month of Adar and the joyful festival of Purim that occurs in the month of Adar provide us with a prophetic picture of how the final redemptions and the coming of the Messiah will transform the other national fast days and commemorations of tragedy into occasions of joy and gladness. Joy increases in Adar because the month of Adar provides us with a glimpse of the redemption. It offers evidence that, no matter how bad things may seem to be, they are going to get better. God is in the business of reversing the sorrows of this present world. The same God who transformed the month of Adar from a month of mourning into a month of joy will surely transform our sorrows into joys. Things will get better. Joy will increase.

The story of our Master’s suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection illustrates how quickly that transformation can happen. In the twinkling of an eye, sorrow and injustice will melt away, and joy will burst forth like sunlight breaking through the clouds. This year, we have two months of Adar and twice the amount of joy. So be happy. Rejoice in the LORD, because things are going to better. Chodesh Tov!

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About the Author: D. Thomas Lancaster is Director of Education at First Fruits of Zion, the author of the Torah Club programs and several books and study programs. He is also the pastor of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI. More articles by D. Thomas Lancaster

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