Tapestry #6: Adar

AdarI say it all the time that we all have only three things in common: we are born, we die, and we lose. We lose dreams and hopes, loves and loved ones. Life is too short most of the time and there is never a day without a loss — from our favorite team to the face in the mirror, we lose games and we lose youth, some team loses so another can win, and when it comes to time, we lose hours and minutes and moments that will never come again. And that is why there is a Jewish value that states: “Mi Shenichnas Adar, marbim l’simcha”… when we enter Adar we must multiply our simcha, our joy. One month out of the year, we are commanded to focus on Joy.

When our committee sat down to design these tapestries, we listed the values important to our congregation and this sanctuary. So many of the people reflected on the joy of life cycle events, Purim celebrations, and watching children grow to love Judaism with joy, that they decided an entire tapestry would be devoted to Simcha. Our artists connected this value wisely with the holiday of Purim, only one day in the Jewish calendar, but celebrated for at least a week here at B’nai Shalom. Some years I have three different costumes for all of the events we have planned.

In the magical city of Shushan, there was merriment and gladness, everyone could be the king of the castle or the beautiful queen. The rebels could be Vashti, the defiant queen or Haman the evil villain. “La-Yehudim hayitah orah v’simcha” … in the words of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther which comes to us in scroll form “for the Jews there was light and gladness… “gladness” is another translation of Simcha.”

And we carry the joy of Purim into this tapestry and our lives with hamantaschen to eat, and groggers to turn (or grog?) as you see in the bottom left hand corner, and a basket ofShalach Manot to share. It is a tradition to give Shalach Manot, baskets of food to friends and neighbors. In some communities it is a hamantaschen competition. One makes chocolate chip and the other adds peanut butter… the great Jewish bake off! When my kids were little their favorites were PB&J hamantasch. We saved those; they didn’t make it in the shalach manot baskets. Other people will include wine or some other beverage to share, nuts, candies or something to make the basket special, or different from the neighbor’s next door. The sharing is the important part. In our day, it is a great time to remember to bring food — good quality, wonderful food for the shelter and the homeless. We need to share our good fortune more often.

As a child, I remember the schnapps on the bimah so that the rabbi and the men of the congregation (no women on the bimah in those days…we showed them!) could fulfill the rabbinic challenge that we should become so intoxicated that we can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai… now we get intoxicated with laughter and noise. On Sunday we will have our first annual Latke vs. Hamantaschen debate. We will let the joy and merriment fill our sanctuary and our hearts.

This isn’t the sermon I planned on giving. It is hard to talk exclusively of joy when there is loss and sorrow. I don’t know if I will bake hamantaschen this year… my dear friends Pastor and Carol Bailey lost their son last Shabbat, and my heart is still heavy. Life isn’t in our control, as much as we pretend it is. Our Bat Mitzvah family knows that sorrow and joy go hand in hand as they mourn the loss Dave’s father six short weeks ago, yet come here with love and joy to celebrate their beloved Jenna. Joy and sorrow go hand in hand. And that, too, is the message of Purim; just as it is the reality of Jewish history and human life.

In the center of the tapestry, we read “Al Ha-nisim, v’al hapurkan, v’al hagevurot, v’al hateshuot, v’al hamilchamot” which Robyn will sing for us in a few moments. “We give thanks for the miracles, for the redeeming wonders, for the mighty deeds, and for the saving acts, and for the wars that you waged, God, for our fathers in days of old at this season.” We have known tzuris and hardship, heartache and persecution, and on Chanukah and Purim we say “al ha-nisim”– thanks to God for standing beside us in our hour of darkness, even in war. And we offer gratitude to God for making miracles before our eyes – miracles of courage and miracles of survival.

As Jews, we are born, we die, we lose and sometime in our lives, we know persecution…we each have our own personal experience with it, or we are witnesses to our history or to the intolerance and bigotry of others. We savor the joy and simcha, the gladness and the happiness because we know that it does not last forever.

In the tradition, the rabbis were asked what one should do if a funeral procession and a wedding arrive at the same street corner. The funeral backs up and the wedding proceeds first. Simcha with a capital “S”, the sacred life cycle moment of religious celebration trumps our grief time and again. The grief is real and we do not deny it, but life is so fragile and the joyous simchas of families gathering to celebrate life are so few that we must savor the joy, knowing the sorrows will come.

Eighteen years ago, I gave a High Holy day sermon, in the year TSMCH- 5748… which spelled the command to be happy and rejoice in the letters of the year, and I told the congregation that it is better for family to come to share simchas when you are alive than to show up when you can no longer share anything with them. I also talked about people who “fashteir simchas”… ruin celebrations with their pettiness, demands, and selfishness – they should stay home, but too often don’t. No tapestry will get them to realize that helping another rejoice is the most sacred task of life, and greatest mitzvah of all.

Finally, we asked our artists, Bracha and Menachem Lavee, to acknowledge all the “Shehecheyanu moments” we have in our sanctuary and our lives. On the round table in the right hand corner is the wine and a wine bottle with the words “l’chaim” – “to life!” written on it, and the tablecloth is adorned with the Shehecheyanu blessing “…for giving us life, for sustaining and for enabling us to reach this moment (of joy).”

We don’t thank God enough. We blame God for a lot, but often fail to give God credit. In this sanctuary we have said “Shehecheyanu” so aware of our good fortune and abundant blessings. We have thanked God for new babies and new Torahs, for Bar and Bat Mitzvah children, and Confirmands, for engagements and weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, and in the words of our Kiddush “We give thanks for all our blessings, for life and health, for work and rest, for home and love and friendship.”

God gave us choices. We can live our lives focused on the negative – the traffic and the price of gas, the problems and the pollution, the people who disappoint us, and the ailments that afflict us; or we can make life worthy of a “Shehecheyanu” each day. We can bless the morning and the new day, we can savor the friendships and family that sustain us, we can live a prayerful life that offers gratitude not attitude; and we can be thankful that it is Adar and that we are here worshipping in freedom, and breathing God’s breath of life.

Simcha –joy, gladness, happiness, celebration is not an entitlement, it is a state of mind and act of faith. Nowhere in the Torah are we promised happiness, but God put it out there for us to grow and cultivate, recognize and live.

I can guarantee you names on the Kaddish list every single week, and new ones will be added all the time. Only you can guarantee that the sadness will be preceded with moments of love, celebration and great joy, and followed with memories of happy times and hearts filled with gladness. Choose Simcha today! Welcome Adar with multiple joys.

L’chaim! Raise your glass “To Life!”