After the holidays

There are no Jewish holidays until Hannukah. We hve to make do with memories of the holidays of the month of Tishrei, about to end.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

OpEds Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

The concluding week of Tishrei always carries with it a note of anti-climax, if not even sadness. The great holidays of the year have departed with their soaring beauty and meaningful moments of personal reflection. Flooded with memories of the past we were transported to a different existence, physically and emotionally. 

Time was slower, family dearer and our spiritual bond with our innermost souls stronger than the rest of the year. The Psalmist wrote of “tying the holiday (sacrifice) to the altar” and not allowing it to simply escape from our conscience and evaporate in the tumult of everyday life. The task of life is to hold on to precious moments of memory and inspiration. 

The problems, challenges and troubles of life are omnipresent and constant. That is the unchangeable matrix of human life.  Without soaring memories and recollections of the good that we have experienced in our lives we would all be doomed to sadness and depression. The holidays of the year arrive to reinforce that good that lies within our being and point us in the direction of further positive accomplishments, no matter what stage in life we find ourselves in.

Holding on to the spirit of the holidays allows us the strength to successfully survive long winters of mundane existence. This concluding week of Tishrei is meant to ease us back gently into our usual lives and experiences, allowing us to carry the spirit and memories that were engendered during the holidays of awe and joy.

The advent of the colder and wetter weather that now begins also carries with it the appearance of the various types of viruses that we lump together under the category of influenza. From 1918 till 1921 twenty million (!) people died from the disease. In World War I, more American soldiers died from influenza than did from German bullets. In an age of less sophisticated medical knowledge and technology than ours, the disease ravaged much of the world’s population. 

Today’s world knows of preventive measures such as the “flu shot” to help prevent the onset of the disease and to soften its symptoms if it should nevertheless occur. Since the virus is somehow aware of the powers of inoculation, it in turn routinely mutates and many times has been able to thwart the preventive effects of the vaunted “flu shot.” So it is somewhat of a guessing game between the medical researchers and the virus itself as to what strain of the virus will actually be prevalent in the season after the holidays. 

I have always regarded the ability of viruses to mutate in order to escape their destruction as one if the great wonders of nature.  How can the virus know what type and strain of inoculation is being planned and formulated? Yet somehow it seemingly does and this serious game of cat and mouse continues every year. People should certainly avail themselves of the preventive therapy of the "flu shot” and pray that we get it right this year.  

The month of Mar Cheshvan that immediately follows the holidays is the one month of the year that is devoid of any special days of commemoration and ritual.  We have to make do with the memories of the great days of Tishrei and the anticipation of joy that Hannukah will bring to us next month. Mar Cheshvan is the immediate test of the idea expressed above of retaining the quality of the holiday within us even when the holiday has already passed. 

Judaism stresses to us that even though we must live in the present, without the past and the future being included, the present oftentimes seems empty of meaning and significance. It is Tishrei and Kislev that grant Mar Cheshvan importance and stature. It is not an empty month for it carries with it the fresh memory of the holidays and is the harbinger of the feast of Hannukah that will come after it. 

This ability to live in many different time zones at one and the same time has been the key to Jewish survival throughout the ages.  We always still lived in the Land of Israel even though at the moment we were exiled from being there. We always celebrated the Temple service even though there was no longer a physical Temple where we could worship. We have always mastered the lesson of Mar Cheshvan.

A healthy winter to all.