Talmud Navigator

For the week ending 21 February 2015 / 2 Adar I 5775

Adar, Happiness and Laughter

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Describing the month of Adar, the Talmud explicitly mentions the direct connection between Adar and happiness, as it says: “When the month of Adar enters we increase happiness.” We are also taught that the month of Adar corresponds to the experience of laughter. This needs to be understood. In Nissan we were redeemed from Egypt and in Sivan we were given the Torah, and yet there isn’t a specific mitzvah to increase happiness in these months. What is special about the month of Adar that requires us to increase happiness? In order to understand the essence of the month of Adar we need to first examine the intrinsic connection between laughter and happiness, and then try to find their link to this month as a whole.

The first place where we encounter the idea of laughter in the Torah is Sarah’s reaction to the prophecy that she will have a child at the age of ninety. Describing Sarah’s response the verse says, “And Sarah laughed to herself saying: ‘After I have shriveled will I once again have fine skin? And my husband is old!’ (Gen. 18:12)” The Torah clearly tells us that what triggered laughter within Sarah was the unexpected coming together of opposites. The idea of her aged body creating life was so ironic that she could not hold back her laughter. The punch line of a joke represents this idea beautifully; the more unexpected and out of place the punch line is, the funnier the joke. This is the essential cause of the experience of laughter.

Anyone who has experienced true laughter knows that laughter is usually accompanied by a feeling of happiness. This phenomenon needs to be analyzed, especially in light of the fact that at times it can even be something silly or unfortunate that succeeds in bringing out laughter. For example, imagine a very dignified lecturer walking over to the podium to deliver a speech. On his way, he trips and falls down face first into the three-decker cake that was lying on a nearby table. This sudden and unexpected turn of events triggers laughter in many of those who witness it. The bizarre response of laughter and a feeling of happiness to situations such as this obviously require explanation.

Chazal tell us that real laughter is only appropriate at the time of the final revelation. As the Gemara says, “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: One should not fill his mouth with laughter in this world, as it says (Tehillim 126:2), ‘then (referring to the final revelation) our mouths will be filled with laughter’… (Berachot 31a)” What is it about the final redemption that encompasses the idea of laughter? The Chafetz Chaim compares the nature of the final revelation to Yosef’s revelation to his brothers in Egypt. The moment the brothers heard that the enigmatic viceroy was really their long lost brother Yosef, everything began to make sense. Instantly, without needing any explanation, the brothers had answers to all their perplexing questions. Similarly, explains the Chafetz Chaim, in the final revelation when G-d will reveal Himself, all the questions that were asked from the beginning of history will instantly be answered. In the blink of an eye everything will all make sense.

Based on this we can understand why there will be laughter at the time of the ultimate revelation. At that moment in time everything that seemed to be tragic will reveal itself as another steppingstone in G-d’s master plan of bringing the world to its final destination. Everything that was once a reason for sorrow will become a reason to rejoice. Laughter, as mentioned before, is a result of a sudden turn of events. The laughter that will fill our mouths in the final redemption will be triggered by the sudden unexpected transition of the ultimate opposites; from bad to good and from falsehood to Divine truth.

Now we can understand the deeper connection between laughter and happiness. We live in a world where G-d’s involvement is not always apparent. It’s not hard to find selfish acts of injustice that are rewarded. It’s not hard to find the righteous trampled under the schemes of the wicked. It’s not hard to find the bad ruling the good. For a person whose trust in G-d is not strong, it seems as though the world is heading towards destruction rather than redemption. Every experience of sudden and unexpected change of events, however, gives us a taste of the ultimate transformation of bad to good that will happen in the future. This experience reminds us that at any moment everything can turn upside down and everything can finally make sense. It is this feeling that triggers laughter in the body and happiness in the soul of each and every one of us who is looking forward to the day of the final revelation. This is the deeper reason for the feeling of happiness that accompanies every experience of laughter.

The commentaries point out that the unexpected reversal of fates is the apparent underlying theme in the Purim story. Close analysis of the Megillah reveals how quickly and smoothly the plans of Haman were not merely foiled but more notably transformed into bringing about the salvation of the Jewish People. The very night that Haman planned to convince Achashverosh to have Mordechai hanged ended up being the night on which he advised Achashverosh to extravagantly honor Mordechai. The very gallows that Haman prepared for Mordechai ended up being used for his own hanging. The very day that Haman had decided to be the time to destroy the Jews was the day on which the Jews destroyed their enemies. Ultimately, Haman’s own proposal to kill Vashti ended up paving the way for the ultimate salvation of the Jewish People. The turn of events in the story of Purim truly embody the verse that says, “Many are the thoughts that are in the heart of man but the counsel of G-d will prevail.” (Mishlei 19:21)

We can now begin to understand the connection between the month of Adar and the idea of happiness and laughter. The “special energy” of this month is the transformation of bad to good; as the Megillah says referring to the month of Adar, “The month that has been transformed for them from one of sorrow to happiness and from mourning to festivity. (Esther 9:22)” It is therefore specifically this month that is the ideal time to reflect on the miraculous turn of events that took place in the story of Purim. Through reliving the finale of the story of Purim we are given a taste of the future happiness and laughter that will fill the world when there will be the ultimate transformation of all that seems bad to good. This is the unique joy that we are meant to feel at this time, and this is the depth behind the month of Adar’s connection to the idea of laughter and happiness.

Sources: Ta’anit 29a; Sefer Yetzira; Maharal in Ohr Chadash; Chafetz Chaim on the Chumash; Michtav M’Eliyahu; Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, shlita

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