THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Rabbi Yoichanan Ben Zakai, in a Braisa brought down in Maseches Airuvin, asks: What is the true mitzvah of Christmas? Is it to share the joy, the festivities, the gift-giving, and the spirit of good will towards all men? Or is it to go to a matinee, pay half price, and stay the hell off the street until the goyim sober up?
This line of questioning echoes a story of Eliyahu Hanavi, as he faced down the priests of Baal on Har Carmel. As they each brought sacrifices and rejoiced in their Avoidah Zarah, Eliyahu chose to sit on the side and clip coupons, rather than participate. And when it came time to show the power of the Aimishteh, Eliyahu chose to consume all the priests with fire, rather than pay to provide refreshments for everyone.
According to the RAN, this story captures the essential dilemma of ambivalence we all feel at this time of year. All year long we function as a part of external secular society, with our own traditions and peculiarities accepted in an air of viva la differance. But at Christmas time we are not Battul BeShishim; we stand out as the minority that we are.
Yet, we needn't abandon this Yuntif entirely, given our myriad connections to it:
- Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Indeed, a medrish in Matthew Rabbah refers to him using a cell phone in a movie theatre and taking Mary Magdolyn on a shidduch date for drinks at the local Marriot;
- Christmas tree lights are a modern day expression on the ancient Germanic festival of lights commemorating the winter solstice. This, in itself, is partly reflected in the lighting of the Chanukah candles;
- Christmas is a celebration of...RETAIL. According to the RAMBAM's Mishnah Toirah, one of the key Mitzvois Asei SheHazman Gerammah is the raising of ALL prices by 20% between December 10th and December 24th. Boruch Hashem for Kratzmach -- this Yuntif pays for my kids' Yeshivah tuition! Indeed, all of my talmidim are encouraged to contribute to a Christmas fund for families who cannot afford toys, the Kratzmach Gemach, so that Jewish merchants will not suffer because the Goyim are in the middle of a recession.
- There is a famous Mishnah that states that just as Roish Hashanah is the New Year for the universe and Tu BiShvat is the New Year for trees, Christmas is the New Year for big, fat, bearded white guys. And I know many Rabbanim in our community who should therefore celebrate this Yuntif too.
There is a famous Maiseh SheHoya about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In an effort to raise money for vodka for his Chasidim one year, he dressed up as Santa Clause and stood in front of the local Bloomingdales, pretending to be from the Salvation Army. Who should walk by, but his archenemy, the Satmar Rebbe.
"So, Menachem-Mendel," the Satmar Rebbe declared in a loud voice, "Your movement truly has evolved into another religion."
"Not at all," the Lubavitcher Rebbe calmly replied. "We simply never miss an opportunity to find joy. What do you say you and I do a couple of shots, sing a niggun, and make-up underneath the mistletoe?"
The Satmar Rebbe was so upset by the confrontation that day, he insisted that all of his followers use reindeer meat in their cholent that shabbos.
Meanwhile, the Lubavitcher Rebbe raised enough money to keep his Chasidim drunk through the end of the month of Tayvais. That night, the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "Rebbe," the Aimishteh said, "Have I not given you enough to celebrate in Yiddishkeit? Why are you and your followers embracing another religion?"
"But Hakkadoshbaruchhu," the Lubavitcher Rebbe responded, "we have not strayed from Yiddishkeit. It's not as if any of my Chasidim will ever embrace the concept of resurrection or anything like that."
So we have a lot more in common with Christmas than we originally thought. We should therefore neither ignore the holiday nor treat it with disrespect. Rather, we should treat it as the money making opportunity that it truly is.
Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess