Tradition Today: ‘After the holidays’

As the holidays end, it’s time to stop putting off our responsibilities and return to our normal schedules.

Illustrative: A woman sleeps under an umbrella in Hong Kong. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Illustrative: A woman sleeps under an umbrella in Hong Kong.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Today is an important day in the Jewish calendar – the day “after the holidays” – or almost so since it is also isru hag, the day after the holiday that our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora celebrate as the festival’s second day.
We have just experienced an extraordinary period, in which we have had one holiday after another. We have been on an emotional rollercoaster, going from the solemn joy of Rosh Hashana to the penitence and deprivation of Yom Kippur, followed by the joy and beauty of Succot and concluding with the ecstatic celebration of Simhat Torah.
Now it is finished. The party’s over and once again, we face the real world with all of it demands and problems.
Aharei hahagim – “After the holidays” – is a well-known phrase in Israel. We hear it in the fall, anytime from the beginning of Elul until today, and again in the spring – anytime after Purim until Passover is over, or maybe even until Shavuot. It excuses almost anything – why a workman cannot come to the house for repairs, why a municipal office cannot do whatever it is you need, why you cannot get a needed doctor’s or dentist’s appointment, why the government cannot pass a bill or formulate a budget – you name it, it won’t happen until aharei hahagim.
So now that the holidays are over, will these things begin to happen? Well, maybe – and maybe not.
The aharei hahagim mentality often permeates our personal lives, as we find one reason or another to put off doing something we would really rather not do. It actually functions all year round, one way or another.
We are all guilty of putting off until tomorrow what should really be done today. It is all too easy to adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s philosophy of “I’ll think of that tomorrow – after all, tomorrow is another day!” The problem is that this mentality is found not only in relatively harmless things, like putting off a disagreeable chore around the house, but also in important, even critical things. It’s not only leaving the light bulb unchanged but finding a way to solve interpersonal problems, learning how to economize, beginning to exercise and eat properly, taking care of health problems and quitting smoking, looking for that new job we really should be pursuing.
But this syndrome also has control over national affairs, matters of great importance that affect our nation, our government, our whole way of life. One extreme example: When Israel was founded in 1948, the Declaration of Independence determined that a constitution for the new state was to be formulated by October 1, 1948. It is 2014, and we are still waiting.
There are many other proposals for important matters that we keep putting off; plan after plan has been made to change things in our system of government.
When are we going to have a government in which our representatives are actually voted on and elected individually by the public, and therefore feel responsible to the people instead of being determined by a party list? When will the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate be ended, and will Jews have freedom to choose their own rabbis and live by the Judaism that they believe in? Every year, we hear that our schools are too crowded and that no one can be expected to effectively teach a class of 40 children. Every year we are promised that this situation, and other problems in the educational system, will be dealt with – and it never is.
Every government has proclaimed it is aware of the fact that the Arab sector does not receive proper budgetary treatment, and that the infrastructure of Arab villages needs improvement. The next government will say the same thing.
We keep hearing that Israel is committed to ending the current situation, in which we control the lives of millions of Palestinians who have no vote, and that we believe in the two-state solution. We have been engaging in a peace process since 1993, more than two decades on, trying to solve a situation that began in 1967, nearly half a century ago. Is this, too, waiting until aharei hahagim? “How good is a timely word,” says the Proverbs 15:23. How bad it is when things are delayed, and delayed yet again. As Hillel said, “If not now – when?” (Avot 1:14) The holidays are over. Like it or not, we have to return to the real world, to get things done. The excuses are no longer valid, either for us in our personal lives or for the nation.
This year, Israel has gone through a traumatic experience in which the critical problems that threaten our existence have reached a point of no return. We cannot afford to ignore them, to put them off. We have to deal with them.
The holidays are over, and we do not have the luxury of continuing to procrastinate.
■ The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).