Column: Faith & Spirituality

The holiday season is concluded for another year, the menorahs and creches and candles and lights put back in storage, and our attention wanes regarding the list of resolutions we so recently and resolutely made.

Now we return to our daily lives, and instead of being offered a smile and a blessing we are greeted with the middle-finger salute from the guy on a bicycle weaving in-between cars on Federal Hwy. I miss the holidays.

And I also understand how folks who are not members of a faith community do not miss the holidays. During that time they are surrounded by sayings and symbols that are meaningless in their world, and are driven to distraction by the umpteenth repeat of “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.” I get it, although I still miss Burl Ives.

I think the problem with having a “Holiday Season” is that it urges us to concentrate our ability to be pleasant to strangers and kind to each other six weeks a year, leaving the other forty-six to the whims of appetite and attitude. That’s a shame.

It’s a shame, because by doing so we have split our thoughts and actions into the categories of “religious” and “secular,” due to our mistaken belief that religion is boundaried by holidays and secular is everything that is not religious. So I thought I would offer a partial list of religiously chosen behaviors to hopefully lessen the distance between the two. We Jews call them “mitzvot.” Our mystical literature teaches that they are the resources we use to perfect ourselves and by extension the world. I have no doubt that other faith traditions have similar instructions. 

Here is a sampling of them:

  1. To honor the old and the wise (Lev. 19:32)
  2. Not to stand by idly when a human life is in danger (Lev. 19:16)
  3. Not to wrong any one in speech (Lev. 25:17)
  4. Not to cherish hatred in one's heart (Lev. 19:17)
  5. Not to take revenge or bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18)
  6. Not to leave a beast that has fallen down beneath its burden unaided (Deut. 22:4)
  7. To leave the corner of the field or orchard for the poor (Lev. 19:9)
  8. Not to delay payment of a hired person's wages (Lev. 19:13)
  9. To treat parties in a litigation with equal impartiality (Lev. 19:15)
  • Not to leave something that might cause hurt (Deut. 22:8)

John Kessler, in Old Testament Theology describes the mitzvot as a sacred dynamic of Divine challenge and human response. To me the most important word is dynamic, meaning the challenge to humans to be better humans is never frozen or static; we are always being challenged to be our better selves. So for those with lots of religion or none, may you enjoy a happy and healthy rest of the year, and have a holly, jolly time!