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Parshas Vayishlach (5772)

The Jews and the (Winter) Blues

By Rabbi David Zauderer

Feeling tired, irritable, or down in the dumps this time of year? It’s estimated that around 15-20% of North Americans experience these symptoms of “winter blues”. The experts say it’s a combination of lack of sunlight, less activity, and less socializing that is probably most responsible for these low moods so many of us are in come winter time.

I recently came across this humorous poem about winter on the internet (source unknown) which I think says it best (especially for Canadians):

It’s winter here in Canada
And the gentle breezes blow
70 miles an hour
At 35 below

Oh, how I love Canada
When the snow’s up to your nose
You take a breath of winter
And your mouth gets frozen closed

Yes the winter here is wonderful
So I guess I’ll hang around
I could never leave Canada
I’m frozen to the ground!

It is interesting to note that according to Jewish tradition, the year is split up into six seasons, instead of four. As the Talmud teaches us in Bava Metzia 106b, based on a verse in Genesis 8:22:

(1) The second half of (the Hebrew month of) Tishrei, Cheshvan and the first half of Kisleiv is called zera, the “planting” season.
(2) The second half of Kisleiv, Teves and the first half of Shevat is called choref, the “winter” season.
(3) The second half of Shevat, Adar and the first half of Nissan is called, kor, the “cold” season.
(4) The second half of Nissan, Iyar and the first half of Sivan is called, katzir, the “harvest” season.
(5) The second half of Sivan, Tammuz and the first half of Av is called kayitz, the “summer” season.
(6) The second half of Av, Elul and the first half of Tishrei is called, chom, the “hot” season.

This means that even though, in the secular calendar, winter doesn’t officially start this year (in the Northern Hemisphere) until December 22nd, “Jewish” winter actually begins much earlier on this coming Monday, the first day of the second half of the Hebrew month of Kisleiv. So what’s the cure for the “winter blues”? Read on …. The Chafetz Chaim points out that the only holidays the Jewish people celebrate in the long, cold winter months are Chanukah and Purim. On Chanukah, our enemies tried to destroy the Jewish neshamah (spiritual soul) by forbidding us to study Torah. On Purim, our enemies tried to destroy the Jews’ guf (physical body) through mass genocide.

He writes further that winter, in Jewish thought, is a metaphor for the long and dark galus (exile) to which the Jewish people have been subjected for centuries and millennia. Just as in winter, all planting and physical growth ceases and the earth lies dormant and “dies”, and many people also experience the winter blues and feel emotionally and spiritually dead, so, too, have our many enemies throughout the long galus tried to stunt our growth and kill us both physically and spiritually.

The twin holidays of winter – Chanukah and Purim – thus stand as an everlasting reminder to the Jewish people that even in our darkest moments, when we are threatened with both spiritual and physical annihilation, we will ultimately prevail. The long and difficult winter of exile will not last forever, and at the end the Jewish people will emerge intact – in body and soul - and will blossom yet again in full glory.

In our own times, we are yet again faced with physical and spiritual threats to our existence as a people. The crazed president of Iran – much like his Persian predecessor, King Achashveirosh of the Purim story - has publicly stated his intent to wipe the State of Israel off the map, and is very close to building nuclear weapons that could accomplish that goal (G-d forbid). As well, a great number of Jews today in the Western world are neglecting the Torah and their Jewish heritage and are assimilating into the non-Jewish culture that surrounds them – just as the Jewish Hellenists attempted to do in the Chanukah story.

Indeed, the future of the Jewish people looks really bleak and dreary, just like the winter. Yet we dare not despair. For in less than two weeks from now – on December 20th – we begin celebrating Chanukah, the first of our two winter holidays. And Chanukah reminds us that we Jews have within our power to beat those “winter blues” and emerge victorious both physically and spiritually.

Let us hope and pray that we merit to one day see the end of all these difficult winters for the Jewish people with the coming of the Messiah, when we will finally be able to say: “For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The blossoms have appeared in the land; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land.” (Song of Songs 2:11-12). Amen.

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