image of pink flower blooming

Cultivating Joy in Difficult Times

By on February 7, 2024

Tomorrow at sunset, the Jewish month of Adar I begins. Why Adar I, you might ask? Because in the lunisolar Jewish calendar, we get a whole leap month every few years, yielding both Adar I and Adar II. The Babylonian Talmud teaches that “from the moment Adar arrives, we increase our joy” (Taanit 29a).

But how can we deliberately increase something as ineffable as joy? How can—or should—we focus on joy in the face of profound suffering? What if we’re experiencing personal loss or pain? What if we’re experiencing tragedy and injustice on a communal scale, or mobilizing in solidarity?

Particularly in times of great human suffering and urgency, it can feel frivolous or perhaps even unethical to focus on merriment. So what are we supposed to make of this central mitzvah, this central piece of instruction about the month of Adar?

California poppy in bloom

Perhaps joy and suffering are not in tension, but rather connected at the root. Perhaps our ability to experience joy is directly connected to our human vulnerability and grief.

 The poet Ross Gay said in an interview:

Joy is the evidence of our reaching across to one another in the midst of, or as a way even of caring for one another’s sorrows…to be entangled with one another, to be mixed up with one another means that if you tell me about your devastation, it becomes, to some extent, not mine, but it comes into me. Just as you tell me about your glee, it comes into me. We have sort of actively crossed the imagined threshold between us. We are, in fact, porous and permeable and all of that stuff.

red bud tree in bloom

This is the joy of Adar—not separate from suffering and loss, helping us stay open to the full range of what it means to be human, offering us more resilience and grounding for the work that remains to be done.

Which still leaves the question of how. After all, increasing joy is easier said than done, particularly in hard times. The answers will look different for everyone, but at Gather, we believe it starts with coming together and building our connections. 

Stay tuned for Adar II, a leap month, which begins on Saturday, March 9.

If you’d like to dive into your particular questions on how to cultivate joy, we’d love to get coffee with you. You’re always welcome to fill out this short form or email us directly:


Rabbi Gray Myrseth is GatherBay’s Community Rabbi. Originally from San Francisco, Gray was ordained at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School of Newton, MA, and has worked as a rabbi, chaplain, and educator with people of all ages, within Jewish institutions and beyond. When not at work, they can be found making ceramic Judaica, writing and reading poetry, expounding on the wonders of Talmud study, and enthusiastically exchanging podcast recommendations.

Photo credits: Gray Myrseth.