We are in the month of Adar and Purim is just around the corner. What spiritual work should we be focusing on during these special days?
The Shem Mishmuel (Pikudei 5) teaches us that the month of Adar is parallel to another month on the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul. They are both preparatory months; however, each one prepares us in a different manner.
Elul prepares us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through fear. We blow the shofar, we say special prayers, and we do teshuvah in anticipation of the “Days of Awe.” The month of Adar, on the other hand, prepares us for the month of Nisan through love. In the month of Nisan we were redeemed by Hashem, the greatest expression of divine love. I would add that in this month we were formed into a nation, which points to interpersonal love and connection among the Jewish people. With this final idea in mind, we can put forward that Adar prepares us for Nisan and Passover through its emphasis on inclusion.
This is pointed to in the mitzvot of Adar’s holiday, Purim. We exchange mishloach manot, food items, with each other; we give presents, matanot la’evyonim, to the needy; and we join together for a celebratory seudah (meal). All of this promotes inclusion and strengthens our love for each other, a true preparation for Nisan.
This imperative of being as inclusive as possible, alongside our fear of God, is alluded to in our Torah portion. Last week’s parsha, Terumah, discussed multiple vessels of the Mishkan, pointing to the need for holy spaces—spaces in which we come close to Hashem and cultivate fear of Hashem. Tetzaveh focuses on holy individuals, by means of its descriptions of the Kohen’s garments.This clothing enables the Kohen to serve God in the best way possible and develop fear of God.
At the conclusion of these descriptions, we are presented with one more vessel, the mizbeach haketoret, the incense altar (Ex. 30:1-10). The commentators ask why the Torah waited until the end of our parsha to describe the incense altar. It seems out of place. The incense altar should have been listed with the other vessels, way back in Terumah!
Perhaps the answer points to this need for inclusion alongside our fear of God. Parsha Terumah with its vessels and Parsha Tetzaveh with its garments teach us to fear Hashem. And the mizbeach haketoret, at the conclusion of these descriptions, promotes inclusion. How so? The ketoret consisted of eleven spices. One of the spices, the chelbenah, did not smell very good. The sages explain that the Torah included it nevertheless to remind us to be inclusive of others who may symbolically not smell as “fragrant” as we would like them to.
Whether we find ourselves with people who are foreign to us or with individuals who may not perform the commandments the way that we do, we should nevertheless love and embrace them, just as we include the chelbenah among the other aromatic spices.This incense teaching appears at the end of our discussions on holy spaces and holy individuals to remind us that being inclusive and loving is of utmost value.
During Elul, we put a lot of energy into teshuvah, introspection, and strengthening our fear of Hashem. During Adar we must be equally as fervent with the special service of the month: being inclusive toward one another. This is not only the central theme of Purim; it is true for the whole month of Adar. We must draw others close who may be far from Judaism, who may feel lonely or apart from our community. We must heed the voice of those in need of warmth and connection. If we do this, we will properly prepare ourselves for the month of Nisan and the holiday of Passover, which celebrates the exodus and our coming together as one unified nation.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Purim Sameach!