Each holiday, Jewish or American, has a theme. We learn from Jewish holidays that, whatever the theme, it has its daily application as well.
While Yom Kippur stands out as a day in which to address human shortcomings and changes to make for improved behavior, the essence of Yom Kippur, acknowledging mistakes, regretting them, asking forgiveness, and seeking relief from stress for wrongdoing, is found in the daily prayer cycle of Judaism and is accessed as much as three times each day. We are exploring that in our monthly study session: Life Purpose as Reflected in Daily Prayer, with the next installment on Sunday, December 12 10:45 to noon.
Sukkot, Judaism’s thanksgiving holiday, celebrating the harvest of life, is also part of the theme of the weekly Shabbat. And, stopping on Shabbat to take time to notice blessings is extended into the other 6 days of the week, as we remember to pause and appreciate small and large blessings throughout each day.
Chanukah celebrates the miracle of continuity of the Jewish people, and our maintaining our unique identity in a world that lives by a different rhythm. Chanukah’s intention is to remind us to be mindful and proud of our differences and unique perspective on life year round.
Designated holidays, accentuating particular themes, are not intended to carry the brunt of consciousness of such themes only to be ignored on a daily basis. Being thankful on Thanksgiving does not excuse us from being thankful every day. The same is true of any holiday highlighting a certain focus. December is associated as a time of happiness and festivity, and people are more conscious from Thanksgiving through New Years to add a little something for those in need.
Yet the real focus needs to be on integrating values worthy of celebrating on a particular holiday into every day consciousness. Food and gifts provided to those dependent on the kindness of others is not a seasonal need; poverty and deprivation of quality in life, for those in desperate straits, has to be on the agenda of individuals, families and communities every day.
From the Jewish perspective, the way to get to that level of awareness is to translate God’s presence into a reprioritization of what is important in life, and what we are here to do with our blessings. From God’s perspective, whatever gifts, talents, and resources any of us has are God-given blessings not intended to fuel self-indulgence and lack of interest in or sensitivity toward others, but rather to use both to our own benefit, and to share with others. In other words, the holiday spirit is in alignment with God’s will, but the difference is that God intends for us to live this way every day, rather than assuaging conscience by limiting sensitivity to the designated season for doing so.
Each moment of life presents an opportunity to fill with blessing or to squander as mundane. The beauty and majesty of holidays that spice up a year is to show us the big picture of all the good we can do in the smaller tapestries of every day.
Judaism is built on seeing each instant, as well as grand global celebrations, as related and interconnected. The tiny moments and the larger than life events all contribute to the totality of the blessings of life; each beckons us to do our part in contributing to Shalom, wholeness and wellness and restoration of balance to God’s entire world.
Life, the way it is, with people being on their best behavior at designated times for doing so, does not have to remain the way of the world. We can always change, especially for the better.
We do best to apply changes we committed to during Yom Kippur in assuring that holiday blessings will abound throughout the year.