Fall and Winter
I am here in New Jersey, getting colder and being more windblown as fall is in full fling and winter approaches. Winter gets very bad press in general. You know, people talk about someone reaching the winter of his days, in other words, he is shriveling up and dying. Winter is the opposite of summer, time of action and time of fun, time of going to the beach and amusement parks and stuff like that. Summer is always good and winter is considered negative.
The Jewish perspective does not look at it that way, and there are a few reasons we like winter. Reason number one, the Talmud says, is when winter comes along, the nights are longer. Nights are the time when it is a little quieter, people are less active, they are not involved in work. Night is a time that we can devote to the study of Torah and to more contemplative activities. So for the Jewish people, we have always looked at as a fantastic time, it is a time when you can devote more time to the study of Torah. That is an amazing perspective. Because we feel that the growth of a person spiritually and intellectually and emotionally and in every way through the study of Torah is probably more important than playing video games, surfing or going to the beach. Even though recreation is important, even though people need relaxation, but on the other hand, the business of life and the important business of life, the idea of making progress in this area is so important that we look forward to winter for that reason.
And in the traditional yeshiva or the tertiary institute for study of Judaism, the longest semester is always winter. It goes for like from Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar, it goes for five months and in a leap year, (Jewish leap years have an extra month), six months. I remember when I was student in yeshiva, we always looked forward to the winter semester because you could really get a lot of stuff done. I mean, five solid months of study when the evenings, the long cold evenings, you stayed inside and studied, you could really get a lot accomplished.
Another aspect of winter is the fact that it is a little quieter. If you are interested in thinking, if you are interested in meditating, if you are interested in creating relationships with people, with G-d and with yourself, then a time which is quiet is a much better time for that than a time that it is noisy and too active etc.
The third point, is that in Judaism you find in the writings of many of the great sages that they refer to the days of their youth, with the term yemei chorfi, now some say that means the days of my sharpness, when I was sharp. But, there are many who say, that what it actually means, yemei chorfi the days of my winter. So they refer to youth as winter, that is type of interesting, because I think in the secular world youth is usually referred to as spring or summer and old age is referred to as winter. Why in Jewish tradition is it the reverse? Why is old age summer or spring, and youth is winter? And the reason for that is, given by the Maharal and elaborated upon by my teacher Reb Moshe Shapiro, is that if your view of life is material and the purpose of life is to harvest the material benefits of the world, then the time that you can do that, the time that you can eat most, the time that you can love the most, the time that you can do the most vigorous exercise and have the most fun etc… is youth. Because, that is harvest time, that is why you are here in this world. If you look at the world as materialistic, and the purpose of life is to harvest as much as you can from this material world then clearly harvest time, which is summer and spring, is youth time. In winter, that is when you shrivel up and die, that is old age, it is useless then, that is pathetic time. But on the other hand, if you look at life from a little more of a spiritual perspective we would look at it that you see winter as youth, because winter is when things grow, things are lying dormant so to speak and absorbing, absorbing the energy, absorbing the nutrients, absorbing the snow melt. And when it comes to a later stage, spring, summer, then the buds will come out, the flowers will come out and eventually the fruit will come out.
So you see, we look at youth as a time in which we are investing. A time when we are absorbing nutrients, a time when we are absorbing growth. When do we harvest that? We harvest what we did in our old age. We harvest it then, you know, a person in their old age sees their children and grandchildren acting as decent human beings, they see their children, grandchildren marrying decent human beings, raising good families. That is when you are harvesting the fruits of your labor. So when we look at old age, we say that old age is harvest time. Youth is when you are planting.
Anyway, as they say in Yiddish, “a gezunte vinter”, everyone have a healthy winter!