The month of Adar is traditionally a joyous one in the Jewish calendar. Every year, as the season approaches, the shops fill with costumes; signs proclaiming “Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Besimcha” “When Adar begins our joy increases” are found hanging in schools, which themselves turn into an almost month-long children’s paradise. The children make up the rules, days are taken over with party themes ranging from pyjama days to funny hat days reaching the peak on the day before Purim where all the children go dressed up in all their festive finery. Purim itself is a two-day school holiday – surely a gift for any child.
Personally, it is the month in which I was married and the month in which our eldest child was born. However, the month of Adar is also tinged with sadness, as for one day of the month, the 11th of Adar that begins this evening, I mark my mother’s Yahrtzeit. This year marks the fifth. As I sat Shiv’a five years ago in the UK, people flooding in and out of the house to comfort all those of us who mourned, certain faces and phrases stuck in my mind. First and foremost were the two girls whose names I don’t even know, who had had no contact with our family for well over a decade, but who came nonetheless as my mother had taught them in primary school more than ten years previously. Then there were those who had travelled hundreds of miles only to visit for an hour and then turn round and go back again. There were community leaders sat with non-Jewish neighbours who had come both out of a sense of kindness as well as for an education.
I learned many lessons that week. I learned mercy and compassion; I learned generosity; I learned the practicalities of Jewish mourning and the comfort that it brings. I learned about the sensitivity of children and the credit that, as adults, we often neglect to give them.
The Jewish calendar is filled with idiosyncrasies. Clashes of dates of a personal nature with those of a more national significance are frequent and rules are laid down on how to deal with each. In the midst of our week of Shiv’a fell the festival of Purim, arguably the most joyous day in the Jewish year. The clash of emotion was immense, perhaps accentuated by the fact that my children were young and immensely looking forward to the day itself. The rules dictate that many of the laws of mourning are foregone for the day; the mourners can leave the house to join in the communal prayers, rather than the community joining the mourners in their home.
It was through this, as well as talking to one of the communal rabbis, that I learned about the concept of compartmentalisation and its central role in Judaism. Where one has to take their personal emotion and put it to one side, acknowledging its presence but allowing it to make way for the greater, overall, mood and needs of the community. In return, the community acknowledges and provides for those in their hour of need. It works in both directions. A bride and groom whose seven days of Sheva Brachot fall around one of the traditional fast days commemorating Jewish tragedy, must also fast and mourn with the rest of the Jewish world, putting aside their personal joy for just one day.
Purim itself spells out the special relationship between private and public emotion, where, as a community, part of the religious observance of the festival is that we rally round those who have less than they need and ensure that they too have their spirits lifted and can join in the celebrations.
This year, I realised that perhaps this one particular lesson was one of the exact reasons behind God choosing for Malka bat Yisrael v’Rut to be taken from us specifically on this date.
In a world where we see personal gain taking preference all-too-frequently over the greater good, it epitomised her belief and life-long reality that the exact opposite should be true.
Hers was a life where she would put everything personal to one side in order to help out another. A life where the greater good always took priority over her own needs. A life where, in order to receive, she kept on giving. And a life, where even after she is no longer with us, her lessons live on for us all, if only we choose to heed them.