Thursday, February 26, 2009


"When Adar arrives, we increase our joy."

I decided to share this phrase with the children I teach at the Solomon Schechter day school in Oakland NJ. Beyond the immediacy of the month, I tried to impress upon them the possibility of making ourselves happy with a conscious and concerted act of our own choice. I asked: "What if you are sad when Adar comes? How do you follow the rabbi's urging that we increase our joy?"
One young boy, unusually mature intellectually, proceeded to explain how difficult, even, impossible it is, to carry out the rabbis' bidding. In a surprisingly adult way he asked:
"If someone is sad, it's a spontaneous emotion, and sometimes its so overwhelming, you just can't change it and make it go away easily? You can't just make yourself happy?"
He raised an excellent psychological point. All of us have struggled with this question, have felt the depth of grief or sadness and have tried, often unsuccessfully, to touch a thread of joy in our lives but were unable?
Another bright and lovely ten year old raised her hand and announced with remarkable maturity:
"Deep, deep down inside everyone is happy-so we can all increase our happiness."
Another hopeful comment of our human capacity to find joy in the midst of life's most daunting experiences.
Later,in an individual class meeting,I continued this discussion and asked the fourth graders what they would do to increase their happiness.
"I would paint my nails black." This mischievous reply came from a young man who had a few minute before painted his nails black while doing an art project.
I wrote on the board under the rubric of- Ways to Make Ourselves Happy- " Being silly," as long as no one was hurt.
"Call up my friends," was another suggestion,indicating how powerful a friend's
companionship can be at a time of sadness.
"I would work hard to get a good grade so my parents will be proud and happy and compliment me," he said ,quickly adding,"and buy me a present."
Another student pointed out that when she is sad she goes outside and that makes her feel better. A change of place, the freshness of the outdoors, also a gift of mood change. Still another suggestion."I used to feel happy when my mommy called me honey-bunny! I don't like it now, I'm too old."
A nick name, a term of endearment,a simple word of love-perhaps the most powerful antidote to sadness of all.
When Adar arrives-when any month or day or moment comes our way and we struggle to be happy, our Sages remind us that we can change how we feel -it is not easy, but it is possible. Just as in Adar when we remember a time when the Jews of ancient Persia could not find a trace of happiness in their hearts because of an impending catastrophe, yet circumstances changed and they were able to rejoice, so too can we bear in mind that there is always something in our lives for which to be grateful and can lift us from sorrow to a more joyful tomorrow.
It's Adar-be happy!

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