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!

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