Life is an arrow – therefore you must know What mark to aim at, how to use the
bow Then draw it to the head and let it go!
– Henry Van Dyke
That is what the
Jewish month of Adar is all about – “what mark we want to aim at,” then to “let
it go.” As this month begins, we shout out the noted Talmudic statement, “Mi
shenihnas Adar marbim be’simcha
” – enter Adar and make the days therein joyful.
We turn the tables upside down to help us realize that though the Jewish people
has frequently been downtrodden time and again, so we have arisen. Moreover, if
we focus only on the joy, we miss the uniqueness of the month.
of the meaning of Adar derives from its seventh day, because on that day Moses
was born and also died. How many people have the great distinction of concluding
life exactly on the day his life began? Why did God make this occur? One rabbi
suggested that like the rest of Moses’s life the end also had to have special
meaning. Moses saw the burning bush; Moses brought about the Ten Plagues to
afflict the Egyptians; Moses led the people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea;
Moses helped to defeat the Amalekites; Moses received the Ten
It would be easy to suggest, for all else he had
accomplished, that Moses could not make mistakes, could not challenge God and
could not die.
But the mistakes of our great leader were quite visible
and we can even witness those moments when he said to God, “this is not right or
Incredibly, when Moses died, he was all alone. Whereas Aaron had
the entire nation mourning for him, a very small group – perhaps only Joshua –
said goodbye to Moses.
ASIDE FROM all that Moses did, he left us the
written Torah , which we read every week as well as on holidays.
Torah we discover the foundation of all of the 613 mitzvot.
The megila of
Esther, left to us by Mordechai and his school, is only read twice a year – on
the night and the morning of Purim – with a lot of noise to boot. However, just
like the Torah, the megila transmits to us not just a great adventure story but
also instructions on how we should act in our lives.
Wendell Holmes reminded us that “it is not so much where we stand, but in what
direction we are moving.” That is why Adar is so important to us. We are given a
direction in which to move.
A lesser-known Jewish Nobel Prize winner from
the US is the late Gertrude Elion, whose award was in the field of physiology
She died on the 6th of Adar, one day before the date of
Moses’s death, in 1999.
She phrased her general insights in a way that
they each hit their target.
When she was about to begin studying at
Hunter College in New York, she was not sure what her major should be. “I had no
specific bent toward science,” she once said, “until my grandfather died of
cancer just before I entered college. I decided nobody should suffer that
Her love of learning and discovering medication motivated her.
“The idea was to do research, find new avenues to conquer, new mountains to
climb,” she said.
When she won her Nobel Prize in 1988, she stood out
among all the male awardees because of the glow of genius she reflected even
though she had never earned a PhD.
Like Esther of the megila, Trudie
Elion spoke up when it was most necessary to do so. In the late ’30s, women in
the US were rarely given the opportunity to participate in major scientific
research. She worked as a secretary, a high school teacher and a lab assistant.
But then World War II broke out. The men had gone to war; the women had a
In her first position as an analytical chemist, she did “major”
research on the acidity of pickles and the color of mayonnaise. Her superiors
quickly realized how talented she was and gave her much more difficult problems
Her major career was spent at the pharmaceutical company
Burroughs Welcome. Over four decades she was granted 42 patents for
“She developed the first cure for leukemia; she created a
cure for malaria, viral herpes, gout as well as the first drug, AZT, to halt
AIDS in the body.” This is a brief statement about some of her achievements from
the National Academy of Science in the US.
At the presentation of one of
her awards, this was said: “Her brilliance, determination, stubbornness brought
her to the top of her profession.”
The philosophy of this Adar Nobel can
envelop us all with a sincere desire to succeed no matter what stands in our
NOW LET us move to the Adar spirit, which characterizes the holiday
of Purim. How unique the Jewish calendar is because it is so
Each time we approach the new month when Rosh Hodesh
arrives, we look closely at what lies ahead in the next 29 or 30 days. In Adar,
aside from the special Torah readings and haftarot that lead up to Passover, our
focus is on Purim.
Once, Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, a noted Conservative
American rabbi, wrote about Purim in a most informative fashion. Initially, he
tried to understand why the holiday had such an impact.
aspersions [its not being included in the Bible] that were cast on Purim, this
spiritual vagabond of questionable legitimacy, the Jews welcomed Purim with a
warmth and a gaiety they did not lavish upon the more austere holidays with
Yes, what a holiday this has become, for each of
Then, the rabbi, a noted Zionist, linked the Jewish people with the
“Perhaps the Jew could more readily identify with Purim
because he too, was considered a vagabond among the nations, he too was
vilified, he too had legitimacy challenged. Whatever the reason, the Jew
welcomed Purim into his home and heart and made its arrival the occasion for a
degree of merrymaking he never permitted himself in the presence of the more
Using his military lingo, the rabbi stressed that
“this holiday, in spite of its humble rank among the festivals, this buck
private among the brass, received a thunderous reception from our
We see in the megila how Mordechai stood up against the edict of
Haman meant to destroy us.
Through the years, the Jew has taken his
ancestor’s lead and has been the perpetual dissenter against every political and
Mordechai made the point that every Jew is
responsible for every other Jew. He even warned Esther, “do not think that you
will escape [the edict] in the king’s house more than all the Jews.” When a
nation was out to kill us, we could not escape this common fate. They sought to
get us all, no matter where we stood.
The message of Purim in Adar must
never be forgotten. Let us be “strengthened by the bright hope and faith of the
holiday.” Maimonides took Purim so seriously that he wrote: “when the Messiah
comes, all the holidays will be abolished except Purim.”