Friday, February 19, 2010

For the Seventh of Adar

Sunday is the Seventh of Adar, the traditional birthdate and yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbenu. Every year, its arrival reminds me of an observation made by R. Meir Simcha ha-Kohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926), in his Bible commentary, Meshekh Hokhmah (Esther 9, 31).

R. Meir Simcha assumes that Haman chose to exterminate the Jews in Adar because, by his reckoning, it augured ill for them. He arrived at this conclusion because Moses was born on the night of the sixth of Adar and died on the seventh. As is well known, it bodes well for Israel, if God allows righteous individuals to live out the full measure of their days. Since Moses, the greatest of prophets, did not do so it follows (perforce) that Adar is innately, a bad month for Jews.

Haman's mistake, of course, was that he did not know that Jewish time is innately different than general chrononomy. In Judaism, the new day starts the previous evening. Hence, Moses actually did live out his full 120 years. Consequently, Adar augurs extremely well for Jews (Ta'anit 9b), and Haman ש"ט, actually set himself up for his own downfall by choosing Adar for his planned Holocaust.

Underlying, Reb Meir Simcha's comment is a deeper truth, one which was already noted by Hazal, and developed by R. Judah Ha-Levi, Ramban and R. Nachman Krochmal. Jews live under a different aspect. Our history is governed by historical laws that are different than those of other peoples. That's not simply an assertion of faith. It's an objective fact.

Mark Twain famously wrote:

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then . . . passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

That answer is not provided by the normal rules of historical causality, despite the best efforts of superb historians to discover it. It is a riddle. (Appropriately, my friend, Dr. Simcha Goldin subtitled his book about the medieval Jewish community 'the riddle of Jewish Survival in the MIddle Ages').

The only answer I can suggest is developed by Ramban, and provides the basis for R. Meir Simcha's comment. When Abraham was chosen by God, he effectively left the realm of normal causality and entered into a different dimension of history and time (Historia Sacra, as Krochmal termed it). It was that deeper reality that was embodied by Moses' birth and death; a reality that Haman missed and that makes Adar-Nissan emblematic of Jewish survival.

As Ramban (Ex. 6, 2) points out, whether Jews stay in that sublime state depends upon their behavior; whether they live up to the dictates of the covenant that Moses negotiated on our behalf.

Now, there's the rub.


Anonymous said...

this theory also explains why the mishna tells us that the royal jewish years begin in nissan, while royal general years begin in tishrei. tishrei is when the world was created, and the general kingdoms follow that order of natural creation.
jewish history follows a different set of rules, so its dates are counted from nissan, the month of miracles...

Anonymous said...

Albert Baumgarten...Page 3;