The Winter of our Content

  The great baseball player Rogers Hornsby, still holder of the single-season record batting of .424, once said: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

       He is not the only one, and this has nothing to do with baseball. It has been an unusually cold winter in much of the United States with temperatures even in New Jersey hovering for weeks near zero degrees. Let the scientists debate the global ramifications; each side offers definitive proof to its proponents of the correctness of its views and the errors of their dissidents. All I know is that it is cold outside, and then it gets colder. I am not even warmed by the realization that our ancestors in Eastern Europe – in Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere – lived through much colder winters although I am certain that added to the general melancholy of life in the Pale of Settlement and places further east.

      There are some people who enjoy the winter, with its beautiful vistas and the opportunity to ski some exotic mountain ranges. All I see is snow that has to be shoveled and ice that has to be avoided lest one encounter some unexpected peril. There are cities in the world that suffer during the winter with only seven hours of daylight, something which can only add to the desolation. Those who enjoy warm weather endure the winter and wait for spring, and those who spend the winter in temperate climes and complain when their thermometer hits sixty degrees find little sympathy in these parts.

     Adding to the gloominess is that we have no Biblical holidays in the winter. The holidays that are recorded in the Torah all occur during the spring and fall when the climate is temperate and the verdant beauties of nature are alive. In essence, the three regalim (Pesach, Shavuot and Succot) are all agricultural holidays, notwithstanding their historical connotations as well. The winter, therefore, should be the time of our discontent.

     And yet, that is the way G-d re-created His world when mankind was redeemed after the Great Flood. G-d promised never again to destroy the world and afforded our ancestors the variety of climatic conditions experienced today by much of the globe: “As long as the earth exists, there will be seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night; it will never cease” (Breishis 8:22). As there is a cycle to life, so too there are rhythms to the year, and in each new setting, we are challenged to be productive, serve our Creator and spread kindness among His creations.

     The winter, its chill and precipitation are all opportunities to praise G-d and marvel at His creation. “Praise Hashem from the earth…fire and hail, snow and vapor, the stormy winds fulfill His word” (Tehillim 148:7-8). Life is not all “mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars” (ibid 148:9). G-d is the Master of nature in all its forms – and the Master of nations as well, “kings of the earth and all nations, princes and all judges on earth” (ibid 148:11).

     The earth lies dormant during winter. It conserves its strength, marshals its energies and finds renewal in the spring. Winter is the time for the earth to regroup. Indeed, the same could be said of the Jewish people. One reason that there are no Biblical holidays in winter is that it is a time for us to regroup as well. We survive the winter, both physically and spiritually. The holidays that we do celebrate during the cold season are Rabbinic holidays that commemorate our survival – Chanuka (our spiritual survival in exile) and Purim (our physical survival). As we marvel at the earth and its capacity to replenish itself and come back to life as the temperature warms, so too we should be astonished (and grateful) for our survival as a nation throughout the bitter harshness of exile. Against all odds, and only with the grace of G-d, have we been able to endure what no other nation has, and both survive and thrive, outlasting great empires that tried to eradicate us.

      During winter, we recoup, carry on, and reflect on our durability and eternity, but we are a people of the spring. We are duly commanded to “observe the month of spring, and bring the Pesach offering to the Lord, your G-d, because it was in the month of spring that the Lord, Your G-d, took you out of Egypt” (Devarim 14:1). The Jewish calendar is built around several propositions, the most important of which is that Pesach must always fall in the spring.

       The Jewish people have been given up for dead many times by our enemies, almost disappearing into the wintry frost of the ghettos and the Gulag. Yet, our national existence parallels that of the spring. The nations of the world have their moment in the sun of summer and then they disappear. We are eternally young, a people of spring. Even during the darkest and bleakest moments of winter, we still dream and remember. If the winter is the time when creativity and growth are stifled, it can nevertheless also be the springboard to even greater growth when it passes.

       Rav Kook wrote that the Exodus from Egypt will always be spring, not just for us, but the world’s spring as well. We are responsible for the blossoming of the national idea and charged with ensuring that the nations use their political formations for good and not evil. Like the seed of winter that disintegrates before it achieves new life, we must always have before our mind’s eye that the darkest times are only preludes to the fulfillment of our national destiny in the spring.

      As King Shlomo wrote: “Behold the winter has passed, the rains have come and gone, the blossoms have appeared on the land and the time of your song has arrived” (Shir Hashirim 2:11-12). May we soon merit the full blossoming of our redemption.

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