Greater than joy
One of the most popular Jewish teachings is from the Mishna, that says, “When the month of Adar enters, we increase our joy.” And so, as the month of Adar starts, we try our best to fulfill this very serious obligation to be more joyous. To our credit, we’re happy to do it.
The importance Jewish thought places on being happy is indeed no laughing matter. King David teaches us to “serve G-d with joy” (Psalm 100:2). G-d Himself tells us that when troubles and curses befall us, it’s “due to your not having served your G-d with joy”. (Deuteronomy 28:47).
This being the case, how strange it is that the very same Mishna that teaches us to increase our joy in Adar straight away continues with another teaching that says, “When the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy.” Decrease our joy? Really?
What would King David have to say about that? Or G-d Himself, for that matter. Why would the great sages of Israel, people of the highest levels of wisdom, tell us that we need to decrease our joy? Are they joking?
In order to understand the message of the sages, let’s go back to the first teaching of the Mishna: when the month of Adar enters, we increase our joy. Clearly something funny is going on here. Why specifically when Adar enters? Why not all the time? The answer it seems is contained in the concept of the month of Adar. Adar means mighty. The sages are teaching us that joy is related to mightiness. It’s not some reaction to an event that comes to us (like Purim which comes only two weeks after Adar enters). No. Happiness must come from us, from our own mightiness, our own positive and powerful mindsets. Because of Adar. Because we are mighty.
If so, we can understand the second part of the sages’ teaching as well: when the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy. Why should we ever give up a mighty mindset of joyfulness? And why specifically when Av enters? Once again, the answer lies in the concept of the month. Av means father. When the time arrives for us to be a parent, to take responsibility for the next generation, we need to be able to put jokes aside and focus on something more important than joy. The responsibilities of parenthood.
Joy is wonderful. King David was a great fan of it. So is G-d. But joy isn’t the goal, it’s the means, just as mightiness isn’t the goal, it’s the means. The Temple won’t be rebuilt because we’re mighty or happy or mighty happy. It will be rebuilt because of Av. Because we’re parents.