This "Essence" is taken from the Sourcebook for Leaders, written by Rabbi Rachel Gartner and Barbara Berley Melits, for Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing! This experiential program was created by Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies to strengthen the Jewish identity and self-esteem of adolescent girls through monthly celebrations of the New Moon festival. The program is now available through Moving Traditions.
Adar II is the thirteenth month of the Jewish calendar. Seven of the nineteen years in the cycle of the Jewish calendar are leap years. In those years we add an extra Adar before the regular Adar. We call this extra month Adar I, and the regular Adar becomes Adar II.
Adar II comes at the same time as the secular months March/April. "It's early in the spring. The brown trees of winter have put on gleaming costumes of bright green .... People act a little crazy – shedding heavy clothes while there is still a chill in the air, laughing a little wildly when there is no reason ...."1 We've gotten giddy; we've caught spring fever.
Because Purim falls in Adar II, Adar II is the happiest, most joyous month of the Hebrew calendar. Its motto is Mi-shenikhnas adar marbim be-simcha or "When Adar arrives, joy increases." Tradition teaches that Adar is so full of joy that it is as if Adar were pregnant with happiness. Indeed, some years we need two Adars to contain all the joy of Adar.
The mazal (constellation) for Adar II is Pisces, dagim (fish). Jews have been compared to fish swimming in an ocean of Torah. In Adar II, we splash happily in one of the most joyous stories of the Bible, the story of Purim.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, marking the day the Jews celebrated their victory over Haman and his cohorts. Because the Jews of the walled city of Shushan fought against their enemies for an extra day, they observed Purim on the 15th of Adar. The rabbis decreed that all cities that were walled at the time of Joshua should observe Purim on the 15th as well. This rule is applied only to Jerusalem where "Shushan Purim" is observed on the 15th to this day.
The story of Purim is told in Megillat Esther. Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther) is one of two books of the Bible to bear a woman's name. (The other is Ruth.) The Hebrew Bible is often referred to by Jews as the Tanach, after the initial letters of its three parts: Torah (Instruction), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). Megillat Esther is found in Ketuvim.
Purim is one of the few Jewish holidays celebrating the talents, courage, and dedication of a woman. The story begins when Queen Vashti is banished for refusing to entertain the king's guests, and Esther is chosen in a beauty contest to be the new queen. Haman, the evil courtier, gets promoted to grand vizier but Mordechai, Esther's uncle, refuses to bow down to him.
Haman decides to take revenge on Mordechai and on all the Jews. He convinces the foolish King Ahashverosh (Ahasuerus) to call for the massacre of all the Jews throughout the kingdom. Purim means "lots" because Haman picked lots to decide precisely when to kill the Jews. Mordechai and Esther devise a plan to foil Haman's evil plot. Esther courageously approaches the king and invites him to a series of parties in Haman's honor. At the third party Esther wines and dines the king, reveals that she is Jewish, and pleads for the life of her people. Haman is hanged, and the Jews are saved.
Queen Vashti and Queen Esther show tremendous bravery in the Purim story. We will honor them both in Adar II.
Dina. Beginning in the second century CE, the twelve calendar months were associated with the twelve tribes of Israel. Adar I is an additional, 13th month which some traditions associate with Dina, Leah's only daughter, and the youngest of Leah's children.
Dina's story is complicated, and we know little about it. One day she goes out to meet the women of the local Hivite town and ends up entangled with one of the men of the place. Some traditions say that Dina chose freely to spend time with this man; the Torah implies that he imposed himself on her by force. Unfortunately, the Torah does not record Dina's own thoughts and feelings on the matter, and so we are left to speculate.
Dina's story reminds us to be careful and to make good choices in potentially dangerous situations. At the same time, it is very important to understand that when someone is the victim of a crime when he or she was simply going about freely, the victim is innocent. When we or someone we care about are hurt, there can be a tendency to wish that the victim had done something differently so she would not have come in harm's way. But we must remember that the one harmed is not in any way at fault.
Hamantaschen are the best-known traditional food for Purim. These triangular cookies, filled with poppy seeds, fruit, cheese, or prune jam, are said to represent the three-cornered hat or three-cornered pocket of the villain Haman. In Israel, hamantaschen are called oznei Haman, Haman's ears.
Some Sephardic Jews have a custom of wrapping hard-boiled eggs in pastry dough in the shape of an animal or a Purim character. These folares are baked, displayed, and later eaten as a Purim treat.
Bean dishes, such as humous, are also eaten to remind us that, according to legend, Esther ate a vegetarian diet while in the court, in order to avoid eating non-kosher food.*