by Father Mark Goldasich
You should receive this Leaven on Thanksgiving weekend, maybe even on Black Friday. The holiday shopping season is officially in full swing. As of Nov. 23, there are only 32 shopping days until Christmas.
With that in mind, let the following story put things into perspective:
Four Jewish brothers left home for college. Eventually, they became prosperous doctors, lawyers and businessmen. At dinner one year, they discussed the gifts they were able to give to their elderly mother who lived far away.
The first said, “I had a big house built for Mama.”
The second said, “I had a $100,000 theater built in the house.”
The third said, “I had my Mercedes dealer deliver her an SL600, complete with a chauffeur.”
The fourth said, “Listen to this. You know how Mama loved reading the Torah. And you know, too, that she can’t read anymore because she can’t see very well. I met this rabbi who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Torah! It took 20 rabbis 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 a year for 20 years to the temple to get the parrot. But let me tell you, it was worth it. All Mama has to do is name a chapter and verse from the Torah and the parrot will recite it.”
Well, the others were impressed. After the holidays, Mama sent out her thankyou notes:
“Milton, The house you had built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway.”
“Menachim, You gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound. The place could hold 50 people, but all my friends are dead, I lost my hearing and I’m nearly blind. I’ll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same.”
“Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home and have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. And I think the driver you hired is a Nazi. The thought was good, though. Thanks anyway.”
“Dearest Melvin, You were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious! Thank you.” (Cue the rimshot sound!)
Keep this story in mind as you’re out shopping for the “perfect gift” for someone. Realize that such a gift rarely exists. And, though it sounds trite, the best gift that we can give is usually not a thing at all, but an experience, something that will live long in the mind and in the heart.
Use this holiday weekend to plan ways of making these next few weeks special. Despite all the extra activities, we can choose to do at least a few things differently, to give ourselves the gift of Advent. These might include some of the following:
• Gather every evening around an Advent wreath for a short prayer
• Take a day off from household chores and holiday shopping to enjoy the season
• Drink lots of hot chocolate and little alcohol
• Put on some Christmas music, sit comfortably, close your eyes and really listen to it.
And as you’re compiling your gift list, be inspired by this one, courtesy of the British statesman Lord Balfour who said that “the best thing to give:
To your enemy is forgiveness;
To an opponent, tolerance;
To a friend, your heart;
To your child, a good example;
To a father, deference;
To your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you;
To yourself, respect;
And to all men, charity.” (Found in Anthony P. Castle’s “Quotes & Anecdotes.”)
This Advent, don’t shop till you drop. Presents like fancy houses, home theaters, brand-new cars or even special “chickens” won’t mean a thing if you don’t give what’s most desired and needed in the lives of others: your presence.
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