"Fortunately, this is a question that I am thoroughly unqualified to answer"


Some of you who could not make it to the Jewish Center Oneg asked me to repeat my brief Dvar Torah. For those of you who didn't ask me to repeat it, you should have, and we're in a big fight (my friend at work taught me that one). In order to recreate the full experience from Friday night, please follow the followings steps carefully:

1) Print out this email.
2) On your desk, place a bottle of Fresca (warm, preferably) and a half dozen Stella D'oro fudge cookies.
3) Garnish with Mike and Ikes.
4) Invite over all officemates who are over 30 and single.
5) Proceed to read.

The familiar song "mi shenichnas Adar, marbim b'simcha" finds its source from the Gemara (Ta'anit 29a): "Just as when Av commences, we limit our happiness, so too when Adar commences, we increase our happiness." (my own weak paraphrase). Rav Papa then states that therefore a Jew who has business in a non-Jewish court should avoid going during Av because of
bad luck ("reah mazleih") and rather go during Adar because of good luck ("bari mazleih").

Rav Papa's statement is provoking in two regards. First, it opens up the whole complex question of how Judaism relates to superstitions, the occult, astrology, numerology, etc… (For example, Parashat Mishpatim mentions that we should kill sorcerers-does this mean that the Torah acknowledges the existence and power of sorcerers?) Fortunately, this is a question that I am thoroughly unqualified to answer. The second, smaller issue raised by Rav Papa is what exactly defines "Jewish luck"?

The idea of luck seems to imply that our lives are out of the immediatecontrol of our own free will, and perhaps more problematically, that our lives are not under full direction of hashgacha pratit (divine intervention). How, then, are we to understand Rav Papa's statement?

The end of the fourth chapter of Megilat Esther records a conversation between Mordechai and Esther (actually, they corresponded via Hatach, Achashverosh's trusty eunuch) regarding how to react to Haman's decree. Mordechai wanted Esther to approach Achashverosh directly; Esther knew this violated royal protocol and was a potentially lethal maneuver. Mordechai concludes his plea to Esther with: "Ki im hacharesh tacharishi ba'et ha'zot-If you remain silent at this time-revach v'haztalah yavo
layihudim mimakom achair-salvation will come to the Jewish people from another source-V'at u'beit avicha tovaidu-and you and your father's house will perish." And then, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the 4th century, Mordechai says, "U'mi yodeah im l'eit kazot higat l'malchut-And who knows? Maybe you entered the royal kingdom for exactly
this opportunity."

Mordechai was frum enough to know that Hashem would eventually save the Jews through some medium. But he also realized that he and Esther had the potential to maximize their opportunities in order to initiate Hashem's providence, to be partners in Hashem's miracles, to quite literally "push their luck." There is an old saying that "Some men are so fond of ill luck that they run half-way to meet it." The same principle holds true for good luck. Ask any professional athlete, businessman or Civil War general and they will say that good fortune is the result of sound preparation and strategic capitalization.

Today, in the age of neis nistar (hidden miracles), what we consider "luck" is really just the consequence of our readiness to be blessed. All it takes is the willingness to meet Hashem half-way. When Rav Papa spoke of good luck in Adar and bad luck in Av, he wasn't defining absolutes. Rather, his characterizations only reflect the templates of Jewish history. Historically, Adar is a time when Jews have been able to initiate providence; Av is a time when Jews have failed to be partners in Hashem's hashgacha. Ultimately, though, it remains in our own power to determine our collective luck in Av, Adar, and the entire year.
(with thanks to my friend Brian Wainger for learning Esther with me)