Song for the Month of Adar — and thoughts on Adar & Purim

Chodesh tov — happy new month! This is an especially joyous month on the Jewish calendar, because today we enter the month of Adar, which contains Purim. (More on that below, after the song.)

Our Song for the Month is a musical setting of the last verse in the book of Exodus (which we’ll reach later this month.) The melody was written by my friend Daniel Kempin, an ALEPH cantorial student. It is simple and beautiful, a call-and-response which I’m hoping will be easy to follow. The words appear below.

We’ll sing this as our opening song, and as our melody when we’re removing the Torah from the ark, on each of the Shabbatot when I’m leading services this month (Feb. 25, March 3, and March 17 with special guest Reb David Markus — that’s the weekend when we’ll reach the end of the book of Exodus.)

You can listen to the song online, or download it for your home computer, here: Ki Anan Adonai (Kempin). Here are the words:

Ki Anan Adonai (The Cloud of God) – melody by Daniel Kempin

כִּי עֲנַן יְי
עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם

וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ

לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל,

Ki anan Adonai
al ha-mishkan yomam

V’esh tih’yeh laila bo

L’einei kol beit-Yisrael
B’chol mas’eihem

(Translation: For the cloud of God
was above the mishkan by day
and fire was there by night
in the eyes of all the house of Israel
in all of their journeys. — Exodus 40:38)

And, as promised, here are some short-and-sweet thoughts on this new month of Adar:

“When Adar enters, joy increases.” — Ta’anit 29a (Talmud)

“The month which was transformed for them from sorrow to joy.” — Esther, 9:22

Adar is a month of joy for us because it contains Purim. Purim, when we celebrate the story of how the Jews of Shushan were saved from the plotting of the evil Haman, thanks to the righteousness of Mordechai and the bravery of his niece Esther. Purim, when we wear costumes and masks to disguise our usual selves (and perhaps in so doing, reveal some hidden facet of who we might be.)

On the surface, it seems obvious why Purim is a joyful holiday. We’re celebrating yet another story in which our people survived against all odds! Purim features costumes, silliness, and commotion. At Purim, we stamp our feet and gnash noisemakers in synagogue to drown out the name of Haman. Purim plays (called Purimspiels) often feature ribald humor of the sort rarely otherwise heard from the bimah.

And, I think there are also other, maybe deeper, reasons why Purim is a time of joy. At Purim, we celebrate surprise twists and inversions. Haman plotted to destroy us, but instead he was destroyed; he erected a gallows for Mordechai, but swung on it himself. Purim reminds us that everything turns and changes, and that we can find holiness in the surprise twists and turns of our own story.

It appears at first glance as though the Purim story is entirely about good guys and bad guys — but many Hasidic masters read this holiday as an opportunity to spiritually elevate ourselves beyond those distinctions. At Purim, we’re instructed to become so “perfumed” by the celebration of the holiday that we entirely transcend the dualism of good and evil, moving to a place where all is God.

Speaking of God: at Purim, God appears to be entirely hidden. God’s name is never mentioned in the megillah of Esther. (Those of you who’ve been reading Velveteen Rabbi for a few years have heard me say this before, but I think it is a gorgeous teaching every year, so forgive me, I’m offering it again.) It appears at first glance as though the story unfolds entirely without divine presence or divine help.

But several of the first several columns of handwritten text (in the megillah of Esther, which we read on Purim) begin with the same word: Ha-Melech, The King. The King, the King, the King. The Sovereign. The Ruler. Who is the real king in this story? Surely not Achashverosh, who comes across as something of a bumbling buffoon. The real king here is the one who is hidden, but is manifest everywhere for those who have eyes to discern: God. What greater reason could there be to awaken our communal sense of joy?

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