Tsipporah Lax - Yoni Jesner Scholar 2018-19. My 2nd Blog

This week we will iy"H be celebrating Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon- the start of the extra month that is added into a Jewish leap year. Adar is known as the month of joy; Chazal famously say in the gemara, "משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה - when one enters the month of Adar he increases in joy!" (Ta'anit 29a). However, it is the lesser-known continuation of this phrase which holds the key to an important lesson for us: "משנכנס אב מעטין בשמחה - when one enters the month of Av he reduces his joy" (Ta'anit 29b). It is important to note that Chazal do not instruct us to stop being joyful altogether, but rather to "reduce" our joy. If, during Adar, we are told to increase our joy and, during Av, to reduce it, the implication is that the base level for a Jew is to be constantly experiencing some level of joy!

Understandably, being constantly joyful is no easy goal to reach. Yet last month, I was priveleged to meet Tammy Karmel, a lady whose simcha is palpable, despite the huge challenges she battles with at every moment of her day. Tammy is a young mother living in Yerushalaim whose ALS has left her paralysed. She is now only able to communicate through a very slow, tiring process using her eyes, which have retained some slight movement. Nonetheless, Tammy welcomes guests like me and my friends to share words of chizuk and inspiration with us, communicated partly through her eyes and also through pre-recorded lectures given by Tammy in the earlier stages of her disease. Meeting Tammy was a truly awe-inspiring experience. I believe it is true to say that she is the closest example to a malach (an angel) that one can meet in this world. Being almost entirely paralysed and unable to speak, eat or breathe by itself, Tammy's body functions only to encase her neshama (her soul), which shines so brightly from every part of her being. One of the main messages Tammy gave over to us was the need for bringing joy into our lives. Even under her incredibly challenging circumstances, Tammy still finds huge simcha in her life- by appreciating the wonderful friends who help to take care of her, as well as her beautiful children and the many visitors who gain so much from her, and even appreciating the very fact that she is alive- this alone, says Tammy, should bring us immense joy! Although the muscles in her face won't allow Tammy to smile, she was quick to tell us how happy she was to see us all- and it is true to say that we all felt her joy remaining with us long after we had left her presence. It feels incredibly empowering to know that if a person in Tammy's position can attain such a high level of joy, it is most certainly possible for each one of us to as well!

Joy, however, does not simply 'occur'- one must actively seek it out and work towards bringing it onto one's life. During one of my classes, I have been studying the sefer "She'arim Ba'tefillah- the Gates of Prayer," written by Rav Pincus, in which he elaborates on the different methods and forms of prayer. Recently, I learnt about connecting to G-d through "רינה", a form of prayer involving joyful song. My teacher advised us to practise tapping into this joy by simply smiling as you recite one prayer each day. I have found this to be a truly transformative experience. Every morning, as I recite the blessing of אשר יצר, thanking G-d for all my working bodily functions, I smile at Hashem and I feel great joy at the prospect of all I can achieve today with the help of my healthy body.

I have witnessed how a smile has the power to affect others as well as myself. Each week I am fortunate to spend an afternoon volunteering at Meshi, a wonderful organisation which provides education, therapy and, most importantly, plenty of love to children with special needs. I have, over the past few months, developed a very special relationship with the children in my class and I look forward to playing with them as much as they look forward to seeing me. Initially I found the experience somewhat difficult as the children only speak in Hebrew and several of them have speech difficulties, so verbal communication can be a challenge. Nonetheless, it has been wonderfully fulfilling to share a laugh with a child who has taken several weeks to come out of his shell, and very humbling to hold a low-functioning, non-verbal child in my arms and see her respond to me with the only things she is capable of giving- a smile. I have come to realise that smiles and laughter are a universal language, and everyone benefits when joy is shared. 

As we enter this joyful month of Adar, I will be focusing on increasing my own joy and continuing to share it with those around me, and on finding a way to bring this simcha with me through the rest of the year. May we all merit to have a very joy-filled month! Chodesh tov!