This is the one time of the year when America takes a moment to reflect about its spiritual nature. This is especially relevant since Hanukkah and Christmas overlap this year.
Whether we call this the Christmas season, winter holiday or winter solstice, this moment represents in our culture an opportunity to reassess our priorities. It is true that religions such as Judaism provide other times of the year for intense introspection. Yet the dominate religion in America is Christianity, and the Christmas season, at its best, should avoid commercial exploitation and focus instead on the spiritual renewal aspect that can help us all to be the best we can as citizens of America and be spiritually connected to the best values in our respective faith traditions.
This is also a time to say the things we need to hear, but might not always want to hear. It is a time not just to be reflective but to face the truth in ourselves.
We talk about rights and freedoms in this country. We have so many fundamental freedoms that make us the envy of the world. How far do we take those freedoms? Have we acted responsibly with the way we exercised our rights in freedom of speech and religion? Did we abuse those freedoms with our neighbors or with the larger community? Did we act wisely in the way we treated ourselves let alone others?
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Here is an alternative list of freedoms. How did we measure up?
* You have the freedom to be a victim. Yes, things did not go your way. You are angry and upset at how your life is turning out. You want to take your anger out on everyone you meet. Your life is a matter of being thrown under the bus. You have nothing to be grateful for in your life.
* You have the freedom to lie to yourself. You can tell yourself anything to justify your actions, which are hurtful to others and to yourself, deluding yourself into a false sense of security. Everyone knows you are lying except you.
We are a country that constantly speaks of individual rights and freedoms. Yet, when do we ask whether what we do and what we say to others is right? What about our responsibilities to be respectful, righteous and tolerant of others who are not like us? When will we hear people fighting for the responsibility to be humble, to think before we speak, to know that the values we claim to be sacred in our respective faith traditions apply to us and not just to those we judge?
I wish the Christian community a meaningful and spiritual Christmas, as I do for the Jewish community for Hanukkah and the African-American community for Kwanzaa. This time of year provides us all the opportunity to ask some hard questions as it does to celebrate the goodness in the human soul. It is a time not only to remember our rights and freedoms but also our responsibilities toward healing the world and respecting the dignity of humankind -- especially for those who are not like us and who we think do not measure up to our standards.
Correspondent Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.