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Adar Alef: Rhythm of the Soul

Mazal tov! Our intercalated (literally, pregnant year in Hebrew) has given birth to a boy and his name is “First Adar.” This is not just a joke for the month of Adar when we increase our joy. Normally, the Jewish calendar year has 12 lunar months and every few years (7 in each cycle of 19 years) we have a “pregnant/intercalated year” (שָׁנָה מְעֻבֶּרֶת) with 13 months. In these years, the first Adar is the intercalated month (חֹדֶשׁ הָעִבּוּר)—the month of ibbur—the 13th month that is added to the year, while Second Adar is the original Adar that we have every year, which is why Purim waits patiently until we celebrate it during the Second Adar.

What does the month of Adar, and especially the first of the two months of Adar in this intercalated year signify? According to Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation), the letter with which the month of Adar was created is kof (ק)—kof is the 19th letter, alluding to the 19-year cycle of intercalated years. It turns out that the letter kof knows how to laugh, since the special “sense” or “talent” of the month of Adar is laughter, and in this year, with two months of Adar, we get to laugh for sixty days straight. The month preceding Adar is Shevat, whose letter is tzaddik. If we put the tzaddik and the kof together, we have two of the three letters of the root for laughter (צחק).

In these two months of Adar, our mission is to find positive laughter, for laughter and even joy can be negative.[1] What is the source of positive laughter? In the Torah, our guide for understanding any concept, we find the word “laughter” appears first in association with Isaac, whose Hebrew name is Yitzchak meaning, “he will laugh.” Laughter appears particularly in relation to Yitzchak’s birth. Abraham laughs when he receives the news that Sarah will give birth to his son (this is the first appearance of the verb “to laugh” in the Torah). Later, Sarah too laughs. Finally, when Yitzchak is born, the elated mother says, “God had made laughter for me, all who hear will laugh with me.”[2] It was as if a huge wave of contagious laughter rolled across the world.[3]

Thus, laughter appears in the context of the first birth in the Jewish people—Isaac’s birth—a surprising birth which, according to the laws of nature could never have happened. There is no joy like the joy of parents at the birth of their child and there is no joy like the joy of a barren woman who gives birth after years of sorrow and anticipation.

Negative laughter is the hollow laughter of emptiness, “For as the crackling of the thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the fool.”[4] This is the laughter that fills a vacuum with foolishness and vapidity. Positive laughter, on the other hand, is the laughter that comes with something new, such as a new soul that has come to the world. This is also the way that we should rejoice in the words of Torah, particularly when secrets of the Torah, which were concealed like a baby in his mother’s womb, are revealed. This is the Zohar’s description of the illuminated, laughing faces of tzaddikim when Torah secrets are revealed. To be precise, laughter comes both before and after birth. By means of laughter, the mother experiences release and gives birth. And when the baby emerges into the world, the joy and laughter are even greater.

In the dimension of time, the secret of ibbur (literally, pregnancy) is specifically the month of Adar, in which we increase our joy. Fittingly, the term, “the secret of ibbur” (סוֹד הָעִבּוּר) equals the value of “joy” (שִׂמְחָה). 353 is also the value of the phrase, “God’s secret is [revealed] to those who fear Him”[5] (סוֹד הוי' לִירֵאָיו), for the revelation of God’s secrets comes about by means of joy, and the secrets themselves bring joy with them. The condition for revealing God’s secrets is having fear of Heaven, which is also Yitzchak’s essential attribute, the attribute of fear. Fear of Heaven safeguards us from negative, flippant laughter that scorns all that is good and holy. It creates the correct place in the soul for the appearance of laughter as an expression of positive joy and deep, internal amusement.

The End of Life

If we continue with the theme of the pregnant, intercalated year that gives birth to Adar Alef, we see that the month that gives birth is the month of Shevat, which precedes Adar, just as the letter tzaddik of Shevat gives birth to the kof of Adar. We saw that the combination of tzaddik and kof allude to the word “laughter” (צחק) and to Yitzchak’s name (יִצְחָק). Yitzchak received the letter tzaddik in his name from his mother, Sarah, who gave birth to him at the age of 90, the numerical value of tzaddik. He received the kof in his name from his father, Abraham, who was 100 years old (the numerical value of kof) when he was born. We can also combine these letters in reverse and then we get the word “end” (קֵץ). Indeed, the month of Adar is the last of the months of the year (we enumerate the months starting with Nissan, “the first of all the months”[6]).

We often associate the word “end” (קֵץ) with the “End of Days” (קֵץ הַיָּמִים), the concealed future, when the true, complete redemption will take place. We are also familiar with the use of the word “end” regarding the Resurrection of the Dead: “And you will arise to your fate at the end of days.”[7] At the end of days, all the secrets will be revealed – especially the most concealed secret, the secret of the redemption. Then, joy and laughter will abound, with not even a drop of sadness or sorrow. This is the secret of Yitzchak. Yitzchak sees the good future, the birth of the redeemer, and the redemption, and then he laughs wholeheartedly.

True, we cannot currently laugh wholeheartedly, for we are experiencing a world filled with sorrow (even though we believe that all is for the very best). We must also take care that the laughter will not play into the hands of the evil inclination, as the sages said, “It is forbidden for a person to fill the laughter of his mouth in this world.[8] The closer we get to the redemption, however, the more laughter abounds, until the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) will make us completely happy (יְשַׂמַּח).

Yitzchak first experienced the Resurrection of the Dead when he was bound on the altar. The letters of his name, Yitzchak (יִצְחָק), can also be permuted to form the words “the end of life” (קֵץ חַי). There is no doubt that the happiest laughter in the world will be at the Resurrection of the Dead when we will understand that all the death in the world was nothing more than a source of holy laughter.

Rhythm

Each of the 12 months corresponds with one of the 12 tribes of Israel. But what about the 13th month, Adar Alef, which has just been born to the pregnant year? The tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said that the tribe that corresponds to the month of Adar Alef is Levi (who is generally not counted among the 12 tribes). The unique service of the Levites in the Temple was accompanying the service of the priests with song and music. Each of the 12 months also has an essential affinity to a special sense or talent. As such, the special talent or sense of the month of Adar Alef is music.

A sense of music begins with a sense of rhythm. The secret of intercalation can be understood as the secret of correlating the two different rhythms of the celestial bodies—the rhythm of the sun, which sets the pace of the solar year, and the rhythm of the moon that sets the pace of the lunar year. The Hebrew word for “rhythm” (קֶצֶב) both in its original meaning—to measure and to cut[9]—and in its modern sense— rhythm—developed out of the word “end” (קץ). The months of Shevat and Adar together create the word ketz, as we saw. So it follows that when there are two months of Adar, we should add the letter beit (ב), whose value is 2, and produce the word for “rhythm” (קֶצֶב)—the proper rhythm for the Jewish calendar.

Song and music with the right rhythm have an important place in the Temple service as an expression of joy and longing for God, both in and outside the Temple. Music inspires prophecy and the holy spirit, as the prophets tell us, “And it was when the musician played music, and the Hand of God was upon him.”[10] But even if we were not born with a musical ear, we must all guard our internal rhythm, the backbone of the soul, which knows how to choose the proper thing at the proper time and place using our faculty of “knowledge” (da’at), which fine-tunes our character and actions according to the innate rhythm of our soul.

Notes:

[1]. See for example Ecclesiastes 2:2, Genesis 21:9, and Exodus 22:6.

[2]. Genesis 21:6.

[3]. In the Yalkut Shimoni §93: “When Sarah was remembered for pregnancy, many barren women were remembered with her, many ill people were healed with her, (the ears of) many deaf people were opened with her, (the eyes of) many blind people were opened, and many of the mentally ill were healed.”

[4]. Ecclesiastes 7:6.

[5]. Psalms 113:9.

[6]. Exodus 12:2.

[7]. Daniel 12:13.

[8]. Berachot 31a.

[9]. 1 Kings 6:25 and 2 Kings 6:6.

[10] 2 Kings 3:15.

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