Depending on when you are reading this, you either have a chance to prepare properly for Purim Kattan (Friday) or to find out if there is anything that you should be doing on Shabbos, having missed Friday’s celebrations.

Celebrations? Were there celebrations on the 14th of Adar Rishon? What is Purim Kattan, anyway? Just a day (or two) on which we do not say Tachanun, Av Harachamim, Tzidkascha Tzedek? (Not that I’m complaining…)

Shushan Purim Kattan? What is that all about? What is its meaning?

As usual, we will start with a Gemara. The Gemara in Megillah (6b) discusses what to do when two Adars intrude upon Purim. I remember singing a Yiddish song as a young child that featured a line that said something to the effect of, “I wish that Purim would come more than once a year.” Well, the Gemara learns from a passuk that Purim can indeed occur only once a year. (Although, as we will see, this is said only regarding reading the Megillah and matanos laevyonim, and probably applies to mishloach manos as well.)

Accordingly, there is a difference of opinion there as to which Adar is the month that gets to ‘host’ Purim. One tanna maintains that Purim should be observed in the first Adar, following the rule that ‘Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos’ (‘One does not allow a mitzvah [in this case, Purim] to pass by, because one never knows what the morrow may bring). The other tanna holds that we should celebrate Purim in the second Adar, reasoning that it is a more perfect way to celebrate — one geulah (Purim) coming in tandem  with another one (Pesach).

Of these two opinions, the second requires a bit more of an explanation. Why, asks the Chasam Sofer, does the second tanna maintain such an opinion, despite its apparent incongruence with the established rule of ma’avirin?’ This view seemingly trumps doing a mitzvah in its optimal fashion. Why does the second tanna hold what he holds?

The Chasam Sofer answers this with a fascinating chiddush. The celebration of Purim is really a Torah obligation! As he points out, the Gemara elsewhere in Masechess Megillah states, “If we celebrate the Exodus by Torah Law, where we ‘merely’ escaped from slavery to freedom, certainly we should celebrate an ‘exodus’ from certain death to life itself!” Thus, says Chasam Sofer, the obligation to celebrate the salvation of Purim is a Torah obligation.

That Gemara discussing the question of in which Adar we should celebrate Purim makes an enigmatic remark. It says that everyone agrees that the days of “Purim” — the 14th and 15th of Adar, on Adar I or Adar II — are both prohibited from being fast days and are days on which eulogies are not said. The Chasam Sofer says that this fits perfectly with the idea that he developed. Ein ma’avirin indeed calls upon us to celebrate Purim at the first opportunity, namely, the 14th of the first Adar. For that, however, a minor commemoration of the miracle suffices; there is no need for a full-blown celebration, with Megillah reading and matanos laevyonim. Thus, the rule of ein ma’avirin is fulfilled in the first Adar, in observance of the Torah imperative as derived from a kal vachomer by refraining from fasting and eulogies. The sheleimus hamitzvah (ideal observance of the mitzvah) will be achieved in the manner suggested by the second opinion cited above, putting geulah next to geulah by waiting for Adar II.

The Gemara states that eulogies and fasting are forbidden in both Adars. Megillah reading and gifts to the poor are the subject of machlokes there. We have now seen the Chasam Sofer’s explanation of the variant opinions.

What is left to debate is the mitzvah of feasting and partying on Purim. The prohibitions against fasting and eulogies are derived from the fact that the Megillah speaks of an imperative of joy and feasting. The Gemara derives from the passuk that simchah teaches that it is forbidden to eulogize, and feasting teaches that it is forbidden to fast. Therefore, it follows that if fasting and eulogies are forbidden, partying and a seudah are imperatives! This is actually the subject of a dispute amongst the Rishonim. In fact, it is a three-way machlokes! Moreover, it is a machlokes-within -a-machlokes.

Tosafos maintain that there is no need to party in the first Adar. Tosafos hold that these days have the status of certain days listed in Megillas Ta’anis on which manifestations of sadness are prohibited (fasting, eulogies). But that is all that we must do (or rather, refrain from doing). Any display of simchah beyond that is unnecessary.

Ran maintains that since these principles are derived from the words ‘simchah and mishteh,’ it is only logical that we should actively party. (Tosafos do not want to spoil the party, but they hold that Purim Kattan cannot be more intense than other “minor” Yamim Tovim.) But why are there no mishloach manos? The Tzitz Eliezer is not sure!

Some say that Ran implies that partying on Purim Kattan is limited to the day of the 14th of Adar Rishon, while others learn that we get to party on the 15th as well. The Ran’s implication that we do “not [celebrate on the] 15th” requires some understanding. Some explain that this refers only to people who usually celebrate the 14th of Adar as Purim (i.e., residents of cities without walls), while residents of walled cities, who normally celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar, should celebrate Shushan Purim Kattan. Others maintain that the Ran meant that there is no overt celebration of the 15th anywhere.

Rema concludes that we should actively celebrate Purim Kattan, out of a sense of doing something to increase our general sense of simchah. Levush maintains that we should celebrate on the 15th as well. Some say that Rema agrees that locales who normally celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar should celebrate on the 15th of Adar I.

Let us hope that there will be many more shanos me’ubaros (leap years) with the accompanying such problems. The next one, according to our fixed calendar (may it swiftly be rendered irrelevant by Mashiach’s arrival) is slated to occur two years hence.

(The only question that remains is if that is enough time to allow me to do a rerun of this column once again!)