Preparing for Adar: The moon smiles

By Rabbi Debra J. Robbins
Rosh Chodesh Adar

The new Hebrew month of Adar I begins this week (on Friday, Feb. 9) and with it we make our way toward Purim on the 14th of Adar II (Sunday, March 24). Purim commemorates the biblical version of our modern-day antisemitism and how the Jews, led by Mordechai and Esther, remained steadfast in their commitment to their Jewish identity and set the example for us all these generations later.

(A parenthetical note on the Jewish calendar: Our calendar system uses both the cycle of the sun  and the orbit of the moon to track the months and seasons. With a biblically based commitment to keep the celebration of Pesach at its historic season of spring in the Hebrew month of Nisan, seven times in 19 years a “leap” month is added to the calendar, a second month of Adar, to keep things on track. This year, 2024/5784, is one of those years.)

This year perhaps we need the extended time to prepare for the holiday, well known for beauty pageants and drinking parties, to take in the parts of the story that tell of hate and fear, of war and death, vengeance and violence. This year it feels nearly impossible to enter a month about which the Talmud instructs us, “Be happy — it’s Adar” (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a). This year the biblical Book of Esther seems far too real. And yet, Adar arrives with a thin sliver of moon smiling down on us and with it we turn to the words of Psalm 104, as we do on each new month. As the months of Adar begin the Psalmist gives voice to our need — to find light in the darkness, hope in the despair, peace in the rubble of land and lives. We plead as she may have, “Please, may I rejoice in God.” (Psalm 104:34) We pray, as perhaps as all the people of Shushan and the distant realms did, that their homes and their world would be “filled with gladness, happiness and honor” (Esther 8:16) and, of course, with peace.

Please consider reading this passage in a quiet place, after taking a few deep breaths, at any point in these months of Adar.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. She is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas and chair of Vaad HaMikvah. “The Moon Smiles” is from “New Each Day: A Spiritual Practice for Reading Psalms” (CCAR Press, 2024) by Rabbi Debra J. Robbins. Used by permission. Order the book: She is also the author of “Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year” published by CCAR Press.

Rosh Chodesh Adar Psalm 104:34
The Moon Smiles

The night is dark, the air is cold,
the sky is clear,
and low on the western horizon,
and just above the canopy of the trees—
the moon smiles.
The heavens rejoice as Adar begins with its historic promise,
“Whoever enters Adar increases in joy”—
a celestial message for the month to come.

The moon marks this season with an unabashed grin, 
to announce the inside-out joy of Purim,
off-balance near the center of Adar. 
On the fourteenth day of the month, 
tell a timeless tale of
accompanied by 

It’s dark, but it’s Adar.
Be happy, says the moon. 
I try.

As surely as birds make their nests, 
and springs flow downhill, 
humans reflect
on the Holy One who made it all, 
and rejoice
in the light of the Luminary in the Heavens.

This is the Light,
of Esther, Vashti, and Mordechai, 
the gladness, happiness, and honor
that fills homes.
Their light shines still when people 
speak truth to power,
stand and walk and speak and act
for what is right and just and respectful 
of all Creation.
God rejoices in all that the Divine has done, 
perfect and imperfect,
beautiful and broken, 
and so can I.

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