Many years ago in a land far far away (unless you live in the Middle East), the Jews were using December 25th to prepare for a special celebration. The Jews had been in Egypt, enslaved with backbreaking labor and cruelty that only the Nazis, Stalin, Chmelnitsky and other “major league” bad guys could rival. Alas the night of December 24th and day of the 25th came and went. What were Jews doing on this day over 3300 years ago? Or, more directly, how did Moses (Moshe) celebrate X-Mas?
For this we’ll need to do a little historical time travel…
The Jews left Egypt, in the springtime of 1310 BCE. (Yes, I am aware that there is some speculation on which year, and I realize that the Gregorian calendar has its own issues, but go with me on this one.) So to figure, December 25th of the year before, 1311 BCE, was (about) the Hebrew calendar date of the 28th of Tevet, 2451. What was Moshe doing on that day? Was it a day filled with Chinese takeout? Did he watch endless hours of NBA basketball? Let’s see if we can piece some history together to come up with a plausible version of Moshe’s X-Mas Day.
To begin with, we’ll put out two ideas that we can cull from the Talmud, the Midrash and its commentators. According to some of the prime Biblical commentators, each plague in Egypt lasted one week, with three weeks of warnings between each plague. The last plague, Death of the Firstborn occurred on the night of Passover. However, each plague that occurred beforehand, all told (between the warning time and the actual plague) lasted a month.
The second piece of important information is that Moses was able to “work his charm” to get the Jewish people one day off every week from their slave labor. Naturally, the day he chose was Saturday-Shabbat. (Indeed our commentators regard Psalm 92 as the song sung by the Jewish people on their one day to regain their focus and some sense of equilibrium.)
If our calculations are correct, then Moses was between the two plagues of hail (or more accurately, a combination of ice coated fire) and the plague of locusts. He would have spent part of his December 25th entering Pharaoh’s palace unannounced with no one able to stop him (as the Midrash details that no one dared to mess with Moshe, so he entered/exited the palace at will). After issuing a stern warning to Pharaoh and his cronies, something to the effect of, “If you don’t let the Jews out of Egypt right away, you and your people will be suffering a major plague of locusts in just a couple more days…” Something akin to THIS — only much worse! Moshe promptly left the palace. Being a Thursday, he probably went home and quite likely would have begun to do some early Shabbat preparations, for the upcoming celebration (Shabbat). Although I doubt Moshe had time for it that day, based on its proximity to the plague of hail, there’s little doubt that many Egyptians, like many Americans, watched the Thunder take on the Knicks. Obviously, having come right off of the plague of hail, the Thunder were favored that year.
How did the rest of the week look?
If we fast forward to Moshe’s January 1st, there was no ball dropping down to mark the New Year. Worse than the greatly dreaded Y2K “bug” of 2000 CE, the only thing that was dropping on that New Year’s day party were swarms of locusts that wreaked havoc upon Egypt. No, I think it’s safe to say that the single New Year’s resolution echoed by the Egyptians of 1310 BCE had nothing to do with new memberships to local gyms, no Ancient Egyptian fad diets, but was probably more along the lines of: ”We’re going to make sure there are no more Jews left in this country by next year!”
Our take home: Outside of Israel (and many times throughout our history even within the land of Israel) we have lived among host cultures who have celebrated all types of holidays and the rituals that went along with them. What Jews have done historically is…moved on with their day and went about their own business (and yes, ordered Chinese takeout). Our calendar is a bit different and we have our own holidays throughout the year. However, we can take pride in our heritage and enjoy the weekly holiday we can all partake in…the holiday called “Shabbat.” Happy Holiday!