In his book, Seasons of Our Joy, Arthur Waskow looks at the Jewish holidays through the prism of the rhythm of the seasons. He also comments on the shorter rhythms that we experience: the rhythm of the day with its morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime prayers; the rhythm of the week which is crowned by Shabbat; and the rhythm of the moon – the coming of every new month is celebrated specially.

Some traditional Jews treat the day before Rosh Chodesh (the new month) as a small Yom Kippur, when they fast and consciously turn away from their misdeeds. This custom arose among the mystics of Safed who saw the waning of the moon as a symbol of the exile of the Shechinah (G-d’s presence in the world) and of the alienated, shattered state of human and cosmic existence. Rosh Chodesh for them was a symbol of renewal and hope.

Tomorrow and on Shabbat we begin the new month of Adar. Later in the month we will celebrate Purim. The Talmud teaches: “When Adar arrives, we greatly increase joy.” And we are supposed to increase our joy day by day. Boy, can we use an increase in joy!

According to the Sefer Yetzirah (the mystical Book of Formation), each month of the Jewish year has a corresponding color, a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a zodiac sign, one of the twelves tribes of Israel, a sense, and a controlling organ/limb of the body. For Adar, which means strength:  

  • the Hebrew letter is Kuf: which means monkey, the symbol of laughter, and symbolizes masquerade; 
  • the Mazal or Zodiak sign is Pisces (Fish): as creatures of the sea fish symbolize “concealed reality.” With a play on words, dag (fish) and da’ag (worry), all the worry of the human heart is converted into joy.  
  • the Tribe is Naftali: in Kabbalah, the name is read as two words meaning “sweetness to me” where we experience pure delight; 
  • the Sense is Laughter: the expression of unbounded joy, the joy which results from witnessing light come forth from darkness; and
  • the Organ is the Spleen: the sages say that “the spleen laughs.” Here’s a paradox: the spleen is known as the seat of “black humor,” the source of melancholy and despair, but if you rearrange the Hebrew letters of “black humor” they spell out “happy thought.” 

Wishing everyone a Rosh Chodesh Adar Sameach! ~ Rabbi Teri