Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy, um, holidays? Well, yes!

The other day, as I was shopping at Trader Joes, my checker was reflecting out loud on how he should greet me. He couldn't say, Happy Chanuka, he reasoned, because that was over nearly a month ago. And he couldn't wish me a merry...for obvious reasons. So he decided that the nice, pareve and politically correct greeting: "Happy holidays" would be just right, so as to not leave me out. But, you know what? He was right! And here's why:

The Gemara in Avoda Zara (8a) Tells us, The Roman holiday of "Calenda" is celebrated for 8 days after the transition time of Teves, and "Saturnura" is celebrated for 8 days before the transition time of Teves, based upon the following historical incident: When the first man saw that the days were getting shorter and
shorter, he said, "Oy vey, it must be because of the sin that I committed, that I have brought death to the formerly perfect world, causing it to become dark and returning it to its primeval state of tohu vavohu (chaos and void. Is this the death, that I am being punished with from Above?"

What was Adam's response? He fasted and davened for a week. But when he saw after that week that the days were starting to get longer and that this was just the way that Ha-Shem set up the world to run, he went and celebrated an 8 day holiday. The next year, as a remembrance, he made them both holidays. Adam established these holidays to give thanks for Ha-Shem's greatness (literally, "for the sake of Heaven") and they (the Romans) established them for idol worship."

It is interesting to note that the name of the first holiday: Saturnura, when taken apart becomes Satur Nura, which in aramaic means, "the light turned away". Adam Harishon, the first man, intended that the holiday coinciding with Dec. 25, would fulfill the verse in Psalms "How great are your works, Ha-Shem". Calenda obviously refers to New Years, and is the source of the word calendar. How ironic that Satur Nura became Saturnura or Saturnalia, which in turn was adopted by our Christian neighbors to became yet another celebration.

I remember being told by the late Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak, of holy and blessed memory, that Rabbi Chaim, The Holy Divrei Chaim of Zanz, would alway drink a l'chaim on the secular New Year, and declare the following: "Master of the Universe, look at how the secular world celebrates its New Year and look at how your beloved people the children of Israel celebrate theirs: The nations of the world celebrate the new year with drunkenness, wild celebrations and gunshots, and your people Israel celebrate theirs with prayer, repentance, and acts of loving kindness and reconciliation. Please, therefore, look upon us kindly, and help us re-establish Your Kingdom on Earth for ever and ever. He would then drink a l'chaim (to life!)

So now you know that from its origin, the real purpose of their holidays was to celebrate Ha-Shem's total caring for each of us and His involvement in our world.

May the one who grants wisdom, open up the eyes of the blind and make this year's "Calenda" truly a celebration!

Monday, December 27, 2010

reflections on my Mom's car (or is it "My Mother the Car" for those of you who remember back when)

Well it's now a year since Mom's passing, her Yahrzeit (the anniversary of her passing) being last Monday. Though a year has gone by, I still miss her terribly, and though life goes on, it feels so very different on this side of the year. One small consolation that we Frischman's have is an extra car to use when needed. Hopefully, when my nephew gets his driver's license, the car will be his, but in the interim, Mom's '96 4 door Cadillac Deville is able to provide us with an extra set of wheels when one of our cars (like mine is now) is in the shop. Now having driven 4 cylinder Volvos for years, it's quite a change driving Mom's "boat". But I've also discovered is an interesting lesson from an inconvenience I've experienced, that I would like to share with you.

With my car, you turn off the engine, and all the electrical stuff shuts off as well. Not so with Mom's car, and this powerful, 32 cylinder muscular engine has drained not one, but two batteries since I've had it. I plan on going to Pep Boys to charge it and then bring it back to the shop to check the electrical system, but it hit me as my neighbor was giving me a jump for the umpteenth time (again on a new battery), that Mom's car really parallels the American model of what we view as strong and fit, as opposed to the Asian model: You can literally feel the strength, heaviness and agility driving this car. And yet with all that power, it's only as effective as its frail battery. So too, in Western society, what is viewed as fit and desirable is muscular definition. Pure raw power. Pumping iron, anabolism, bulking up on amino acids. Making everything more and bigger. Yet the Asian and Jewish models view things differently: Strength needs to come with balance: balancing emotions, spirit, mind and body. This is done through eating with care and purpose (see my previous blog for details on how to eat), getting adequate air to breathe, water to drink, quality sleep, spiritual development, exercise to stretch and all of the above to cultivate one's strength from within. The result is tremendous internal strength, but not necessarily muscular prowess. And indeed, Asian martial artists, for the most part, though fit, are not muscular. I read recently a wonderful story of an elderly qi gong master who was mugged in his sleep by a group of thugs, who left him for dead. In the morning, he stretched himself like a tiger who had been sleeping, and they were found bruised and severely beaten up. Did he attack them? No, but the very strength of his internal Qi was so powerful, that their attack was reflected back to them. So too with us, with our cars and with all that we posess. It seems to me that we should look within, and work to balance all of the areas of our life which reflect the areas of our greatest weaknesses. For that is the key to longevity, and for that matter, happiness: having each part of us in balance with every other part, our batteries reflecting our moving parts.