by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
Twice Adar: Understanding the Halochos of Adar Rishon and
Rising to the Occasion
"When Adar arrives we increase our level of happiness"
(Ta'anis 29a). All year long Jews are meant to feel
the tremendous sense of joy that accompanies the opportunity
of serving the King of kings. As we draw closer to this
unique time we are expected to raise our spirits to an even
higher level. What is the reason for this change?
"There is no joy greater than eliminating doubts (Responsa
Rema)." Adar and Nisan are months in which Hashem
performed extraordinary miracles for the Jewish people. The
high level of clarity of faith that we can reach through
celebrating and studying these events, gets rid of any
hesitation we may have about believing in Hashem's total
domination of world history. When everything is clear, we
realize that our Father in Heaven is watching over us every
moment of the day and we are free to experience the simcha
which is the true status of our nation.
Although all opinions agree that Purim is observed in Adar
Sheni, the overwhelming joy of this time makes its presence
felt in Adar Rishon as well, with the celebration of Purim
Koton. However numerous other halachic issues arise
concerning the question of which Adar is the "real" Adar. In
order to fully appreciate this special time of year, it is
worthwhile to take a few moments to investigate the halochos
pertinent to Adar Rishon and Sheni.
The Arba Parshiyos
Our Sages instituted that in the month of Adar we read the
Arba Parshiyos -- four designated portions of Torah and
Nevi'im. Which Adar should they be read in? The ruling of the
Shulchan Oruch and other poskim is based on the
content of these parshiyos.
Shekolim deals with the mitzvah of Machtsis Hashekel. The
gemora says that since one has to bring korbonos
from new contributions in Nisan, this sum (the annual
half a shekel) had to be given before the month of Nisan.
Zochor describes the mitzvah of eradicating Amolek, an
important theme of Purim. Poroh explains the mitzvah of
Poroh Adumoh which is essential to become
tohor, a prerequisite for entering the Beis
Hamikdash for the Korbon Pesach and on Pesach. The final
parsha, Parshas HaChodesh, deals with the mitzvah of
Korbon Pesach itself.
Since these parshos all center around Purim and
Pesach, they are read in Adar Sheni (Shulchan Oruch
The chazan stands majestically before the bimah,
embracing a sefer Torah on the Shabbos before Adar
Rishon. As he clears his throat to announce the upcoming
month, he thinks to himself, "Should I say that next month is
Adar, or must I be more specific and say Adar Rishon?"
Our chazan's seemingly innocent question touches on a
fascinating halachic dichotomy.
The poskim agree that Adar Sheni is the "real" Adar,
and Adar Rishon is the added month (Radvaz 1,150). Although
this has relevance when deciding when to make a
yahrtzeit (as explained later in this article), our
Sages did not say that words are defined based on halachic
parameters. Interestingly enough, the meaning of a word is
based solely on the way people talk, i.e., what they intend
to express when using it.
Most Rishonim understand that when people say or write the
word "Adar" by itself, they are referring to the first Adar,
Adar Rishon (Rosh and Ran, Nedorim 63a). Based on this
information, our Chazal's doubt is resolved, and he can say
simply that next week will be "Rosh Chodesh Adar." However as
in all aspects of life, avoiding ambiguity is preferable and
for the sake of clarity it is better if he says explicitly,
"Adar Rishon" (Mishna Berurah 427,3).
If it is always better to say Adar Rishon or Sheni, what
difference does the definition of the word Adar make? The
question of what the word "Adar" means has serious
ramifications regarding many issues, as expressed by the
following scenario. In order to follow this story, bear in
mind that the word "Adar" refers to Adar Rishon.
The Shulchan Oruch writes that if a person passed away in
Adar of a non-leap-year, the yahrtzeit should be
observed in Adar Sheni (Orach Chaim 568,7). In order
to understand the ruling of the Shulchan Oruch, we must
return to our initial principle. While the exact date of
vows, financial contracts and gittin depend on what
people mean when speaking or writing, the date of a
yahrtzeit is significant because it is a day of
judgment for the deceased and his family, and can only be
determined by the month which is halachically considered
Adar. Since Adar Sheni as the real Adar, the Shulchan Oruch
sets the yahrtzeit in that month.
The Rema notes that even though Adar Sheni is the real Adar,
following the principle of ein ma'avirin al hamitzvos
(we do a mitzvah at the first possible opportunity) the
yahrtzeit should be kept in Adar Rishon (Yoreh Deah
402,12). However even the Rema cites poskim who
say that since this issue is unclear, it is praiseworthy to
also observe the yahrtzeit in Adar Sheni (Orach Chaim
The Mishnah (Megilloh 6b) says that the only
difference between the first and second Adar is that Megilloh
is read and matonos Lo'evyonim are given in the second
Adar. This implies that aside from these two cases, all other
halochos should be observed in both months. In this vein,
some claim that keeping the Yahrtzeit in both Adar Rishon and
Adar Sheni is not just laudable; it is an obligation. (Gra,
Magen Avraham, Mishna Berurah, ibid.). As with the
previous halachos, since many different issues are involved
in determining which opinion to follow, a rov should be
The poskim pose a halachic riddle which is very pertinent to
this topic. How is it possible to have twins, one born before
the other, yet the second child's bar mitzvah is
before the first one? They answer that if the first child
was born at the end of Adar Rishon and the second was born at
the beginning of Adar Sheni and also the bar mitzvah
is in a non-leap-year, the child who was born first has
his bar mitzvah at the end of Adar, while the second
child's bar mitzvah is at the beginning of Adar
(Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 55,10 citing Agor).
While the question of Yahrtzeit depends on which month is
considered the halachic Adar, the issue of a bar mitzvah in a
leap-year presents us with a new issue. In order to consider
that a child has reached the time where the Torah considers
him to have transformed from a boy to a man, it is not enough
to know which Adar is Adar. This calculation requires us to
be aware when thirteen years have terminated. Here even the
Rema is in agreement that a boy born in Adar of a non-leap-
year does not become Bar Mitzvah until Adar Sheni of his
thirteenth year (Rema, Orach Chaim, 55,11).
Even while celebrating the tremendous simcha of a bar
mitzvah, it is important to remember that our Sages have told
us that no happiness can be complete until the final
redemption arrives (Medrash Tanchuma 98,1). In the
merit of studying and following the halachos of Adar Rishon
and Adar Sheni, may we personally witness the ultimate joy of
the Geula Shleima in the near future.
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