“The beginning is embedded in the end,” say the Kabbalists, “and the end in the beginning.”1

Everything has a beginning and an end. The beginning precedes all other stages and particulars, and the end follows them all. But the beginning, if it is a true beginning, contains the seeds of all that is to follow; and the end, if it is a true end, is the culmination and fulfillment of everything that preceded it.

So the beginning and the end each embody the entire process, each in its own way. Each is the mirror image of the other: a true understanding of the beginning reveals the end, while a true understanding of the end uncovers the essence of the beginning.

Orach Chaim (“The Way of Life”) is the first of the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, the codification of Torah law that has been universally accepted as the most basic guide to Jewish life. As its name indicates, Orach Chaim is the section that deals with the day-to-day life of the Jew: the daily prayers, the laws of tzitzit and tefillin, the observance of Shabbat and the festivals, and so on.2 Like every book, Orach Chaim has a beginning and an end. And here, too, “the beginning is embedded in the end, and the end in the beginning.”

The Could’ve-Been Purim

In the opening lines of Orach Chaim, the Shulchan Aruch quotes Psalms 16:8: “I set G‑d before me always.” “This is a great principle in Torah,” it goes on to say. “When a person sets in his heart that the Great King, the Holy One, blessed be He, whose presence fills the entire world, stands over him and sees his deeds . . . he will immediately achieve a fear of G‑d and submission to Him . . .”3

Orach Chaim closes with another verse—from Proverbs 15:15: “He who is of good heart is festive always.” The subject under discussion is Purim Katan, the “Little Purim.” Purim occurs on the 14th day of the month of Adar—the day established by Mordechai and Esther as a day of “feasting and rejoicing”4 in commemoration of the Jews’ salvation from Haman’s evil decree in the year 3405 from creation (356 BCE). But approximately once every three years, the Jewish calendar contains not one but two months called Adar—Adar I and Adar II.5

Which is the “real” Adar, and which is the addition? When should Purim be celebrated—in Adar I or Adar II? The Talmud rules that Purim is to be celebrated in Adar II. Nevertheless, the fourteenth day of Adar I is also a special day—it is “Little Purim,” the day that would have been Purim had the year not been a leap year.

What do we do on Purim Katan? We don’t read the megillah, nor is there any special mitzvah to send food portions to friends or give gifts to the poor, as is the case on Purim proper. The Shulchan Aruch cites an opinion that one should increase in festivity and joy, but rules that there is no halachic obligation to do so. “Nevertheless,” the Shulchan Aruch continues, “a person should increase somewhat in festivity, in order to fulfill his duty according to the opinion that it is obligatory.” By way of explanation, it concludes with the above quote from Proverbs: “One who is of good heart is festive always.” Joy and festivity are always desirable; so, if an opportunity presents itself in the form of a day that might have been Purim—the most joyous day of the year—one should certainly rejoice and celebrate.

The Two Constants

The beginning is embedded in the end, and the end in the beginning.

I set G‑d before me always. One who is of good heart is festive always. Always, always. Always fearful, always joyous.

The foundation of all is the fear of heaven. Unless man perceives himself as constantly in the presence of G‑d, unless he trembles before the immensity of the import G‑d places on his every act, there can be no Shulchan Aruch, no divine law for life.

The culmination of all is joy. When the Jew concludes the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch—when the “The Way of Life” becomes his or her way of life from morning to night and from Passover to Purim6—his every moment becomes a link in a chain of perpetual joy. She is realizing her purpose in life, actualizing her deepest potentials, and there is no greater joy.

But fear is not only the beginning, nor is joy only the end. As the foundation of all, the fear of heaven pervades the Jew’s every hour and deed, from the most solemn moments of Yom Kippur to the inebriating joy of Purim. As the culmination of all, joy too pervades every nook and cranny of Jewish life: also in the “days of awe” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jew is enjoined to “tremulously rejoice.”7

Fear and joy are as diverse as any two emotions to reside in the human heart. But the Shulchan Aruch synergizes them as a perpetual state of joyous trembling and tremulous joy. For the beginning is embedded in the end, and the end in the beginning.