the holiday season

A friend of mine was listening to the radio a few weeks ago, and asked me what ‘black Friday’ was. I answered, that I had no idea, but it was probably something connected to the Catholic Church. Shortly thereafter, we got a peek of reality on the TV, as we watched a crowd of buyers surge into some big department store in America in their rush to buy products on sale. Ah, I was wrong; nothing to do with the Catholics… it was the church of ‘free enterprise’ again.

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This week I experienced a very powerful personal experience as I waited for some grandchildren to arrive to join me in lighting the first Chanukah candle. Sometimes it is a little difficult for me, these days, to be surrounded by a lot of young and vibrant youths. I get worn out easily. And so I was trying to get in the proper mood. And I listened to a recording of my dear Rabbi, who left this world some years ago. Of course, that meant turning off the radio, and the telephone, and any of the usual things that try to claim my attention. And I heard him tell a story which could easily have been a Zen story if it wasn’t Jewish. And it filled my mind and heart because it was a story about something very simple… and it was the truth. I experienced a catharsis while listening to that story, and for a few minutes I was returned to a state of purity and holiness, and my physical body became like a bell that resonates a true tone.

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And later, when I was thinking of writing a post for the blog… I considered describing that experience in detail. But I have been surrounded by friends and family, and holiday spirits, and it was difficult to find the quiet for the time it would take to write the story, as I thought it should be told. And then, a little later, I thought I might write the story that my Rabbi had told. But again I was distracted by real life events. As the time went by, I had a number of ideas about what to write in honor of Chanukah; different aspects of the holiday that I wanted to share with you, my friends. Since the holiday is mostly about the holy temple, which has been shut down now for about 2000 years, I thought of telling about some of the less known aspects of that great institution. There are some people who think of the temple as something primitive; something we no longer need in these modern days, and I was thinking of re-examining the role it played in our lives and community. But these were just thoughts that ran through my mind as I was busy with social contacts in honor of the holiday… and none of it was actually written.

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And now, as I approach the Sabbath, which I am spending in the beloved little village of ‘holy fire’ with friends and family, I’ve sat down to write the post before plunging into the totality of the holiday experience combined with the Sabbath. And what I’m thinking is this: It is so easy to be influenced by the general atmosphere at holiday time. And there are a lot of ruthless business men out there, who take advantage of the holiday, or the season, to play on well known themes that we are all attached to in one way or another. On the surface, nothing seems easier than letting the radio or TV run, and watching their offerings, especially since they are geared to the popular sentiments of the day. But we have the choice of turning all of that off, and taking a book into our hands, or a recording of something we really love; something that has given us inspiration in the past. I have heard from some friends, that they’ve developed a dislike for Christmas because it has been hijacked by all those vested interests. Well, we don’t have to let that happen. Even someone who is not moved by religious messages of any sort, can find sanctity in making the choice to turn off all the noise, and take the opportunity to commune with nature at such a time, and to listen to his or her own heart.

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And that is my wish for the holiday, that I’d like to share with you. That we turn off all the noise, and listen to our own hearts, and may there be peace on earth, and good will towards man.

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21 responses to “the holiday season

  1. Yes, peace, my new friend.

    Melissa

  2. Thank you so much for your comment, Melissa

  3. Beautiful! I just returned to “civilization” after a week of no internet, no phone, no electricity. Just a tiny cell in a Buddhist monastery where I woke up with the sun, wandered through the stunning Himalayas during the day and had one of the best–and yet bittersweet–Christmases I’ve had in a long time.

    I love that you thought Black Friday had to do with Catholics! Someone here in India asked me what it meant a while back and I told them I thought it was when the stock market crashed and people were jumping out windows on Wall Street. Guess we both had it wrong.

    • Thank you Jordan. That week in a monastery sounds like a great pleasure. For many years it was a great fantasy of mine… not for a week, but to go off and live in a monastery. Since then, I’ve managed to adjust to my own life. But there are times when I go off, and enjoy solitude… though I must admit, I usually have a little computer with me.

  4. I have been on leave for a week now and I have tried to switch off completely. Two years ago I had terrible depression brought on by my job and the fact that I could not turn off when I went home and I tend to dwell on problems.

    I try not to get involved in the commercialised part of Christmas. I believe in spending it with family, having a peaceful time and being thankful for your blessings.

    We do not exchange gifts anymore (no children around us) and we do not feel forced to spend lots of money just to keep up with the Jones.

    Hope you have peace and happiness through the holidays.

    • Sounds to me like you’ve figured out how to make Christmas a truly joyful personal holiday, GB… and that’s the way I think it’s best. For me, the holiday has been very good and beautiful, though I sometimes find it a bit of a challenge to meet with all the younger generation… they have so much energy.

  5. Beautiful post . It made me think of a quote that I saw recently. The quote is from a young child. .. he said, ‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.’ We should stop and listen more often.

  6. A truly lovely post, Shimon. And the menorahs are gorgeous.

    Thanks you.

  7. this part really grabbed my attention: “for a few minutes I was returned to a state of purity and holiness, and my physical body became like a bell that resonates a true tone.”

    It is difficult for me to remember a time when I felt such purity, but it had me going in search, sifting through my memory banks, for that tone that resonates with truth. Every person deserves to rest in such a place.

    what a precious and generous reminder to let everything fall away and allow the silence of truth to become our cloak of comfort … thank you

    • Thank you very much for coming by, and reading the blog, and for your comment. It takes a lot of work, and time, for us to come to terms with whom we are. And even when we’ve gotten there, we can start taking things for granted, or get lost in our plans or our desires… or be distracted by the influences of others. But even so, when we have moments like that, of peace within ourselves… it reminds us, and strengthens us, and it is easier to get on that path again. My very best wishes to you, for many moments like that in your future.

      • I came searching for this again tonight … it’s been a sleepless night, and I’ve been agitated, and uncomfortable. I wanted to soothe my troubled soul with something akin to a prayer for peace, and then I remembered your words about “a bell that resonates a true tone”. I knew if I came here, and read this post again, that I would feel that peace again.

        Thank you, my new friend, for your generous words. I wish I could offer a similar comfort to you. Maybe you can take comfort from knowing that your words have reached all the way around to Texas, and helped a wandering soul find peace tonight. What a gift you have shared. As I lay my head upon the pillow tonight, I will breathe in deeply, and ask my soul to touch that place that resonates with truth, so that I might hear the bell tone of peace again.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the quiet we need in our world, and the benefit of sacred times (funny that I would say that, as a non believer, but if I’m anything, it is full of contradictions). And… sacred times can be the times in between as well, not necessarily during a holiday. Right?

    • Certainly, Rachel, sacred times are when we accept holiness, or dedicate a moment or a day to holiness. Sometimes holidays get in the way, or distract us from what is sacred. Though I have yet to get to know you at all, and don’t know what you mean by ‘non believer’, you sound a bit as if you’ve made a commitment not to believe. It seems to me that even when we don’t believe in something… we still remain open to all possibilities…

  9. Already trying to convert me?

    • I know you said that in fun… but just to make things clear, I don’t believe in trying to convert people… and I have no interest that you believe in the particular things I believe in. But I do believe that all people have a mixture of faith and disbelief… that there are some things we believe, and other things that other people believe, and we don’t.

      • Yes, it was in fun בהומור

      • As a student at the Hebrew U. I used to walk in Meah Sh’ahrim and feel envious of the people who were so resolute in their belief. I wish it was so simple. Too many questions. Few answers.
        I really enjoy your blog and it feels like a gift.

        • There is something, both ironic and exquisite about the fact that in Jerusalem, it would have been most unlikely for us to meet and discuss life and philosophy, but now, with you in Los Angeles, and myself in Jerusalem… we have met.

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