Purim Katan - Significantly Small
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Why do we have leap years in Judaism? While the Torah obligates us to keep a lunar calendar, we are also commanded to have the Yomim Tovim in their appropriate seasons (Pesach in the spring and Succos in the fall). While the lunar year is approximately 354 days, the solar year is 365 days leaving us with a gap of 11 days. Without an extra month every two or three years (seven times over a period of nineteen years) there would be times where we would be keeping Pesach in the fall and Succos in the spring. Adar is the last month of the Jewish year so we add an extra Adar (as we do this year) to ensure that we are calendarically calibrated.
This however leads us to an important conversation. In which month do we celebrate Purim? Is the first Adar the real Adar or is it the second month?
The Gemara in Megilla (6b) goes back and forth on this issue. On the one hand we have a rule that ain maavirin al hamitzvos, we do not "pass over" the opportunity to do a Mitzvah and therefore we should celebrate Purim in Adar Aleph at the very first opportunity. On the other hand we want to be somech geula ligeula “connect redemption to redemption" and therefore we would celebrate Purim in Adar Bet where it will be next to Pesach which is celebrated in the following month of Nissan. The Gemara paskens that we go with the latter opinion but the Purim of Adar Aleph was not forgotten and is known as Purim Katan. Purim Katan is not an imaginary day in the Jewish calendar. There are real halachos associated with this day. One is not allowed to deliver a eulogy, say tachnun or fast.
The Rama paskens (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 697) “There are those who say that one is obligated to increase in joy and feasting on the 14th of Adar Aleph however this is not the practice. Nonetheless, one should increase somewhat his joy and feasting in order to fulfill the words of those who are stringent, One who is of good heart is festive always."The Rama would not bring a shita of a yesh omrim (those that say) and see room to be machmir and increase joy if there was not real significance to this concept of Purim Katan.
The challenge for us is, what is the significance of Purim Katan? Other than adding an extra meal and not saying tachnun we don't really see any practices that enhance our joy. We don't read Megillah, give Matanos L'Evyonim or deliver Shaloch Manos. I have never seen anyone dress up in costumes on Purim Katan! To be sure, a number of holy talmidim from the Yeshiva asked me if they had an "obligation" to drink on Purim Katan (one even went so far as to offer to lein the Megillah) but aside from the passion of these exceptional young men, we do not see practices on Purim Katan that reveal to us an inner message of significance.
Will The Real Purim Please Stand Up
The Yerushalmi (Megillah 1:5) teaches us a fascinating insight into the timing of the Purim story. "Rav Levi said in the name of Rebbe Choma, the son of Rebbe Chaninah: “The year of the miracle of Purim was a leap year. Why do we say this? For it is written regarding Haman’s lottery to determine the best month to annihilate the Jews, 'Cast the pur, that is the lot, before Haman, from day to day and from month to month, to the 12th month, it is the month of Adar.'"
The Yaaros Devash understands this to mean that Haman’s lottery fell out on Adar Aleph! But if that's the case then why do we celebrate Purim in Adar Bet? Why even mention the concepts of not passing over a Mitzvah or connecting one geula to another? Let us celebrate Purim when it actually happened in Adar Aleph because that is what is historically accurate!?! Obviously, the Bavli did not agree with the Yerushalmi that the original Purim story took place in a leap year or it would not have brought these arguments but we are still left with a troubling Yerushalmi. According to the Yerushalmi, why do we not celebrate Purim in Adar Aleph? Could it be that Purim Katan is the real Purim?
What does it mean to be small? Why do we call this day Purim Katan and not by any other name? The Torah calls Yaakov Avinu “the small one” and David HaMelech was "the smallest." These are not merely descriptions of their size (the Torah would not bother with such trivialities) but insight into their essence.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in an address delivered to children on Purim Katan, explained that Hashem is known as the Meor HaGadol, the great luminary. God illuminates everything and provides for every one of us. We, Klal Yisrael, are like the moon who receives and reflects the light of the sun. Our job is to be a reflection of God in this world. Sometimes in our lives we have a feeling of smallness. We look out into the world around us and the cosmos and realize how insignificant one person is. Were it not for the mission that God has given us, the Torah we can learn and the Mitzvos we can perform, perhaps it would be so. But while we are small in stature we are great in purpose. It is precisely our smallness, the mission to be the reflection of God in this world, that gives us our dignity. The Rebbe taught the children on that day that although children are quantitatively small, ultimately it is the children that will bring Mashiach.
Purim is celebrated in Adar Bet. Of that there is no question. It is the Meor HaGadol of the season. Purim Katan is the Meor HaKatan. It does not have the same quantity of halachos. We don't give Matanos L'Evyonim, Mishloach Manos, read the Megillah and we have no mitzvah to drink. But it is precisely the "smallness" of the day that gives it it's significance. It is the reflection of Purim. According to the Yerushalmi it is the day when Purim actually occurred! But just as the Megillah doesn't mention Hashem by name because God is hidden in the Purim story, we only see the reflection of God so to speak, so too on the day on which the Purim story actually occurred we only see the reflection of Purim. For those who recognize Godliness in the world, for those who see the reflection of God in their lives, they merit to be of good heart and are thus festive always. For those people and for those who strive to be those people Purim Katan is our day. There are no massive celebrations. Only the "small" joy that we express in the experience of our infinite significance.
A Freilichen Purim Katan to all!