Nissan: The Month of Freedom

Two tired but smiling cousins stand behind a dining table laden with all the delicious Purim treats they've cooked: foulares, sambusak, naan, mujaddara, hummus, borani, muhammara, eier kichlach, and minestra with orecchiette.

It must be a truism at this point that the longer it takes to do something, the harder it is to begin. I kept telling myself I’d post for Rosh Chodesh Adar II, then late, then for both the new moon and Purim… Now here I am at the beginning of Nissan, simply accepting that last month, it didn’t happen.

I might have missed this month, too, and let that power of inertia accumulate, but Nissan itself gave me a (gentle, spiritual) kick in the pants.

Nissan is, by its nature, a new beginning. Though we celebrate Rosh Hashanah—the New Year—at the beginning of Tishrei (usually around the fall equinox), Tishrei is actually numbered as the seventh month. The calendar itself begins anew in Nissan. If that seems confusing, just think of it like January 1 falling halfway through the school year.

And if Tishrei is the point at which we begin our annual cycle of story—ending the Torah and beginning again, reconnecting to the ritual rhythm of our yearly festivals—then Nissan is when we recommit to our intentions. We shake off the dark of winter and resolve to be our full-spirited selves. It’s a spring awakening.

The new moon of Tishrei falls precisely between the full moon of Purim and the full moon of Passover. We find ourselves straddling two festivals that celebrate escape—one, an escape from certain death, the other, an escape from slavery. In the first, freedom was won by fighting back. In the second, it could only be attained by leaving everything behind. On Purim, we eat sweets, dress in costume, and drink until we can’t tell friend from foe. On Passover, we eat bitter greens and salt water tears—but we also lounge, sing, and drink wine (four glasses!). On both holidays, we feast. On both, we tell our story and remember.

You’d think that Passover would take place first—in winter, in the month we leave behind. But it’s Purim that happens when the nights are still long. Adar, the month of Joy, is how we end the year, not how we begin. We find our reasons to laugh in the darkness.

I found a surprising number of reasons to laugh last month. Adar I seemed bleak when I sat here writing last, but luckily, we got two Adars this year—double the chances for joy. By Purim, it felt easier to smile. I got to visit family—in three cities, no less!—cooked an indescribable feast with my cousin, and sang my heart out at the concert of a would-be Eurovision champion. I published my first article (the geekiest thing I’ve ever written) and started a podcast (somehow even geekier).

Joy can feel like it’s in short supply. The world is suffering—people and planet—and it can seem selfish, petty, even crass to “indulge” in joy. How heartless, to laugh when someone else is crying! It’s true—and our Jewish rituals often remind us to temper our joy, by smashing a glass at a wedding or spilling drops of wine from our Passover cups.

And yet, there’s a reason we feast, too. We dance, we sing, because our survival is a miracle. Our very presence here, our existence, is against all odds—and what a waste, if we insist on augmenting our own suffering with survivor’s guilt.

We don’t forfeit our privilege or sacrifice our safety by refusing joy. We don’t make the world more equitable. Our bad tempers don’t end wars or overthrow tyrants. All we do is compound the overall sorrow of the world.

I’ve struggled with my mental health for a lot of my life. And I can tell you that I’ve done the most good when I’ve found the joy in it. Depression doesn’t make me righteous—it just makes me tired.

This Nissan, I’m letting go of the belief that what Is Good must Feel Bad. I’m seeking more of what brings me joy: nerdy podcast theme songs, X-Men comics from the eighties, elaborate multi-course meals planned by two overambitious cousins, Montreal-style bagels with fresh cucumber and tomato, long climbing sessions that are mostly spent chatting, head-to-toe denim, cats, friends, family.

What brings you joy? I’d love to hear.

And if you’d like to join me in reading Pleasure Activism this month, please let me know! I know it’s a book I should have read a long time ago, but it’s a new year, isn’t it? There’s no better time to start than now.

One thought on “Nissan: The Month of Freedom”

  1. What brings me joy? To see my granddaughter blossom. I’m grateful to be alive at almost eighty-five, to wake up after a good night’s sleep, attend to my needs without assistance, prepare and enjoy a healthy breakfast, exercise, shower and dress, walk to the market and back and prepare a healthy dinner in an apartment where I am able to cook and clean by myself, all things one can take for granted at an earlier age. When I see friends, neighbors, others suffer chronic illnesses and pass away, I am grateful to be spared and I enjoy hearing the birds sing outside my window, watch the flowers bloom and have the ability to read (without glasses) this blog and kvell.❤️

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