The Month of Adar
The Sages of the Talmud teach that when the month of Av begins, we lessen our joy; when, though, the month of Adar begins we increase our joy. They, in fact, are subtly telling us that there is no coincidence in the world, and that each season has a unique character and nature of its own. The fact that the destruction of the First and Second Temples occurred on the ninth of Av is an indication that the beginning of the month of Av, by its very nature, is a time of retribution; the fact that the Purim festival took place in the middle of the month of Adar is a sign that the month of Adar possesses a unique capacity to transform the bad into good.
Rav Papa adds that if a Jew has a court case or business transaction with a stranger in the month of Av he should do his best to avoid it, for this month is a time of misfortune for him. He should try to arrange such undertakings in the month of Adar. In Adar, a Jew enjoys good fortune. Now, if this is true concerning an individual Jew, how much more so regarding the People of Israel as a whole. It follows that there is no better time of year for dialogue between Israel and the nations than the month of Adar. As in the days of Purim when evil decrees were transformed to good, so too in our days all the evil thoughts of the nations will be transformed to blessings and success.
The Four Parshiot
In addition to the fixed arrangement of weekly Torah-readings, the sages instituted the reading of four special Torah portions, or Parshiot, in the month of Adar.
The first is Parshat-Shekalim (Numbers 28:9-15). This reading was instituted in order to remind the entire People of Israel to donate the yearly half-shekel contribution – a contribution used to purchase the communal sacrifices which were to be offered up in the Holy Temple. Concerning this sum there was no difference between rich and poor; each was commanded to give a half-shekel, no less and no more. This contribution can be seen as an indication that concerning the most fundamental act carried out in the Temple – the offering of sacrifices – every Jew is equal. Even if money was left over from the previous year, the sacrifices for the coming year would not be bought with it; the Torah demands that each year’s sacrifices be purchased from the donations of the new year. The year, as far as sacrifices are concerned, begins on the first of the month of Nisan. Therefore, each year on the first of Adar (the month preceding Nisan), the courts would make an announcement reminding people of the half-shekel offering so that during the month of Adar everybody would bring their contribution. With the beginning of Nisan, the communal sacrifices would be bought from the new contributions. In order to strengthen the court announcement, it was instituted that Parshat-Shekalim be read on the Sabbath before the first of Adar. And if the first of Adar falls on Sabbath, Parashat Shekalim is read therein. With the destruction of the Temple, the sages enacted the continued reading Parshat-Shekalim, in remembrance of the Temple and the mitzvah of the half-shekel.
Following Parshat-Shekalim is Parshat-Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19). In reading this portion of the Torah we fulfill the Mitzvah to remember what the nation of Amalek did to us. The sages instituted its reading just before Purim in order to link this mitzvah to the Purim holiday on which we celebrate the blotting out of Haman who was of Amalekite genealogy.
The third Parasha is Parshat-Parah (Numbers 19:1-22). In this portion we learn about the practice of ritual purification in order that we are able to go to the Holy Temple and offer up sacrifices. The Sages instituted its reading just before the month of Nisan in order that we prepare and purify ourselves for the offering of the Passover sacrifice.
The fourth and final Parasha is Parshat-HaChodesh (Exodus 12:1-20), and it was instituted to be read on the Sabbath before the first of Nisan. If the first of Nisan happens to fall on the Sabbath, Parshat-HaChodesh is read therein. Its reading was instituted in order to remind us that the month (Chodesh) of Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar. In addition, Parshat-HaChodesh makes mention of Passover preparations.
When, on Sabbath, one of these four portions is read, two Torah scrolls are brought out. From the first scroll, the fixed weekly portion is read; from the second, the special portion. The Haftarah associated with the special portion is then recited, being that the special portion was the last thing read. If the first of Adar or Nisan falls on Sabbath three Torah scrolls are brought out. From the first, the weekly portion is read; from the second, the Rosh Chodesh portion is read; from the third, the special portions: on the first of Adar – Parshat-Shekalim; on the first of Nisan – Parshat-HaChodesh.