As we come to the end of the cycle of months, you might make a double take at your Jewish calendar. No, it's not a typo or negligent editing. There are sometimes two months of Adar. Yes, it is true. Why? Because there are 7 leap years every 19 years in the Jewish calendar, and every leap year, the month of Adar is doubled.
In order for Passover to fall during the spring,1 it is necessary to add a month to the calendar every so often to keep Passover from sliding back into winter. Imagine leaving Egypt in the already cold desert night; doing so in the winter would be downright arctic!
Since Adar is doubled, this leaves us with two Purim festivals. But which one is the "real" Purim? Well, the sages decided that it is better to recognize the Purim of Adar II as the "real" Purim, since it is closer to Passover. This way, both festivals of deliverance are celebrated in close proximity to one another. But, in order to respect the first date's potential festive status, it is recognized as Purim katan, a "little Purim."
There is a custom of Purim that we will examine this month, as it is applicable beyond just Purim. That custom is giving tzedakah to those in need. Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for "justice" or "righteousness." In Jewish tradition, giving is seen as justice. Tzedakah is more than charity. Charity is typically seen as a voluntary act of giving money or supplies. But tzedakah is traditionally viewed as obligatory. Giving "justice" is not a mere option; it is God's will. By giving food, clothing or money to those in need, we establish God's justice on the earth.
Also unlike popular conceptions of charity, everyone is obliged to give, even those who receive it. It is a good deed that all can participate in. Some might think, "What the use of that? If someone receives tzedakah, how much can they possibly give? Is what they give really worth anything?"
The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot is spelled out in the Book of Esther, which enjoins the Jewish people to observe the days of Purim "as days of feasting and gladness, and sending portions of food to one another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22). This verse refers to two different mitzvot: the sending of two different, ready-to-eat foods and/or drinks to one friend (known by the Hebrew term, mishloach manot), and the distribution of two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people.
Remember the words of our Master Yeshua when he spoke to His disciples about the poor widow with her two small coins in the Temple. He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all that she had to live on." (Mark 12:43-44)
Of what use is it to give, if you yourself are poor? Counter to our reasoning, the Master teaches the very opposite; it is a greater mitzvah to give if we are poor. Rather than giving when it is comfortable, it shows greater faith to give when it cuts into our budget.
We live in a world that thrives on selfish greed and gain. It infects rich and poor alike. One of the messages of Purim is that we are all to look to the needs of others before ourselves—both during Purim and every other time of the year.
Bless and be blessed this month!
1. See Deuteronomy 16:1. Abib refers to the stage of the ripening of grain, and by extension, "springtime."