Very often people look back to years and decades gone by, sigh nostalgically, and exclaim, “Those were the good old days!” Rav Avigdor Miller counters that we would be wise to realize that “These are the good old days!” Perhaps there was a time when we were more vibrant and youthful. Perhaps there was a time when our lives were more exciting and carefree. But almost invariably, at some point in the future, we will look back to today and wonder why we didn’t appreciate it more.
The wisest of men exhorts us, “Do not ask why were the earlier days better than now, for it’s not out of wisdom do you inquire about this” (Koheles 7:10). Shlomo HaMelech urges us not to focus too deeply and ponder for the “good old days.” Rather, one should appreciate the gifts of the present and thank G-d for the blessings he has been endowed with. “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy… Enjoy happiness with the woman you love all the fleeting days of your life that have been granted to you under the sun… For that alone is what you can get out of life, and out of the means you acquire under the sun” (Koheles 9:7-9).
Our problem is that in the daily bustle of life we hardly ever stop to smell the flowers.
An insightful and analytical friend of mine recently quipped to me, “I have finally pinpointed what it is about the way we celebrate Chol HaMoed that bothers me so much.” He explained that in our fast-paced, rapid moving society we often find ourselves in a relentless pursuit of accomplishment and success. (The irony is that the furtherance of technology raises our expectations and demands for efficiency and effectiveness, which in turn ensures that we have less time, not more.)
Every six months G-d grants us an elongated week-long Yom Tov celebration. A holiday is called a “moed” which literally means a meeting place. When a person is invited to a meeting with a respected and important dignitary, everything in his life aside for that meeting is put on hold. He does not answer his phone or check his messages. During the meeting he is completely focused on what is going on in that room.
A holiday is a moed in the sense that it is an opportunity for us to get off the rapid moving cogwheel of life, and spend a week joyously appreciating our blessings, so that we can feel gratitude and connection with G-d.
However, ironically, we have taken Chol HaMoed and transformed it into a stressful and pressurized time – the very concepts that the holiday affords us an opportunity to escape from! We often spend the day stressing over where to go and when to leave. The whole holiday centers around Chol HaMoed plans, which at times metamorphoses into an all out family feud. (This is not to say that one should not go on family trips during Chol HaMoed. However, the trips should be a time of familial bonding, a chance to enjoy the family without the daily pressures.)
In the Haggadah we read that while enslaved in Egypt we suffered terrible oppression. The author of the Haggadah offers a fascinating definition of Egyptian oppression. “V’et lachatzeinu, zo hadachak – Our oppression refers to the pressure.” Aside from the physical servitude our forefathers were subjected to, the Egyptians enslaved them mentally and psychologically. The slavery and workload was so intense that they did not even have the ability to dream about liberation and freedom.
Our celebration of the Exodus includes the fact that we are no longer subject to Egyptian oppressive pressure. On the other hand, in our exile we are still very much plagued by stress and pressure and it inevitably takes its toll on us, physically and mentally.
In the Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov we request, “Load upon us – Hashem, our G-d – the blessings of Your appointed festivals for life and for peace, for gladness and for joy, as You desired and promised to bless us.” The holidays are an opportunity to stop the daily grind, smell the flowers and count our blessings.
But if we are too busy deciding what to do over Yom Tov, then we have failed to utilize the holiday for what it was intended. We become analogous to the foolish children who swallow the prescription itself as the medicine instead of following its instructions.
Of course, both Sukkos and Pesach have their own individual meaning that one must contemplate, analyze, and ponder. But even before one begins to think about the individual uniqueness endemic to each holiday, one must realize that the holiday itself is a moed – a meeting not only between a person and his Creator, but with himself!
If one indeed takes advantage of the moed he will realize just how much blessing he has in his life, (even if others have more). The holiday will help him realize the omnipresent miracles that are part of his life on a daily basis.