By Zvi Gluck
We are all familiar with the phrase “Mishenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha.”
The last of the twelve months on the calendar, Adar is known to be an auspicious time when we are encouraged to ramp up the “happy factor” in our lives. Walk into any school and be prepared to take in a panorama of festive decorations and possibly even some over-the-top pre-Purim shtick. Visit your local stores and chances are excellent that there will be upbeat music and eye-catching displays, some brightly colored and others exuding understated elegance. The concept of simcha means various things to different people, but in reality, true happiness is all about inner peace.
It goes without saying that reaching a place of serenity isn’t always easy. While each of us deals with the typical bumps that arise on the road of life, there are those who struggle mightily just to get through the day. For people who live with the pain of trauma and the challenges of abuse and addiction, Purim’s emphasis on happiness is a larger-than-life reflection that their existence is anything but joyous. While young and old alike bring the words “v’nahafoch hu” to life as they don their Purim masks, there are those who masquerade in figurative costumes every day, hiding their inner anguish from the world under a cloak of secrecy.
As Purim approaches, we need to internalize what simcha means to us so that we can spread positivity and joy to others, especially those who are struggling. There is no better time than Purim to reach out to those who are anxious, depressed, or alone, whether by bringing them mishloach manos with a friendly smile or inviting them to join us in our seudos. Those simple gestures can mean so much, kindling a spark of happiness that will continue to glow long after the last hamantaschen have been eaten and the Purim paraphernalia has been packed away.
With the spirit of Purim in mind, the mitzvah of “Lo sa’amod al dam rei’acha” takes on new meaning, reminding us of our responsibility towards others. While there is nothing wrong with drinking responsibly on Purim, it is crucial to respect someone’s wishes if he or she declines an alcoholic beverage. For those who have worked hard to kick an alcohol addiction, pushing them to have “just one drink” can be disastrous, setting them back weeks, months, or even years, catapulting them into a dark hole whose dangers go far beyond anything that any of us could ever imagine.
It is always disturbing to realize that too many people see Purim as a license for recklessness. The artificial buzz that comes from overindulgence is a poor excuse for the pure joy that is the hallmark of this powerful yom tov, and each one of us needs to take a stand against the irresponsible behavior that has become all too common.
As the father of two teenagers, I see firsthand the importance of adequately preparing kids so that they can celebrate Purim in a healthy and positive way. They need to know how to firmly but politely decline alcoholic beverages and other addictive substances that might cross their paths on Purim. They need to understand that as they become adults, personal responsibility is about making the right decisions, albeit not necessarily the popular ones. They need to be reminded that should they find themselves in a place where things are spinning out of control, they can call a trusted adult any time of day or night for a safe ride home, no questions asked.
This Purim, let’s all focus on spreading real simcha. Reach out to someone who is suffering and let them know that help is just a phone call away. Do what you can to put a smile on the face of someone who is experiencing personal challenges. Make sure that your kids know how to react when potential pitfalls come their way. Most of all, take the time to remember that Purim is all about reveling in the pure joy that comes from fulfilling the mitzvos of the day, a celebration that comes from within and one that is truly in the spirit of the month of Adar.
Zvi Gluck is the director of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community. He has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 20 years. For more information, visit amudim.org.