11/28/2013 11:48 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2014

Hanukkah, Christmas & Black Friday Presence

Indeed the holidays are upon us. For those who celebrate Hanukkah we're already knee high into the gifts. For those who celebrate Christmas though, you fortunately have a few weeks left, indeed, Black Friday (sounds way cooler than it is) has arrived. So whether you're drowning in presents or dreading the presents, now might be the perfect time to step back and remember the opportunity those presents present.

Thinking back upon my past 328 days of Hanukkah, I can only remember a handful of presents. There was the Atari (what a blessing), the Apple II (what a curse). I vaguely remember a Walkman, a Red Rider BB gun (or was that a movie) and for some odd reason Chia Pets embarrassingly ring a bell. Other than that it's pretty much a big blurry heap of wrapping paper and broken toys.

Things come and go. What was once a must have is now just an embarrassing memory (think Cabbage Patch doll craze). What doesn't come and go, what is not forgotten, what lives on long after the presents are gone, however, are not the gifts but the gift givers. They are the real makers of those memories, the bestowers of those presents, the giver of true gifts. Long after the Atari is at the bottom of the trash heap (to bad, big bucks on Ebay) the memories not just of the gift but of the giver stay with us for years, decades even generations to come. This is why we must remember during this crazed holiday season that it isn't just about the presents we give but the presence we give. That is the true gift and one too often overlooked.

When Moses was called by God to ascend Mt. Sinai the Torah says "Adonai said to Moses, 'Come up to me on the mountain "veyeheh sham' -- and be there'" (Ex 24:12). To which Dr. Alan Morinis asks, "If Moses had come up the mountain, why did God also have to tell him to 'be there'? Because it is possible to expend great effort in climbing a mountain, even to stand before God, but still not be there!" If Moses can stand in front of God and not be present certainly those of us further down the mountain must pay extra attention to being present lest we become lost in the illusion presents present.

We can stand in line all day on Black Friday as we shop for presents,
We can sit at that Thanksgiving table surrounded by loved ones,
We can spend all day putting together impossibly difficult unassembled toddler toys,
We can show up at the Hanukkah party with a bundle of boxes for others,
We can sit with friends around the Christmas tree sipping our egg nog (much better than Manischewitz),
We can make it through this wonderful holiday season,
We can trudge through this remarkable journey of life,
all the while missing the sights, the sounds, missing the magic, miracles and mistletoe because we were focused on presents when what we should have focused on was presence.

What our children, our grandchildren, our spouse, nieces, nephews, siblings, family and friends want, certainly what they need, is not only to show up to share stuff but to share soul, not just bearing gifts but bearing our heart, not merely presenting the presents but there, fully, consciously and lovingly presenting the ultimate present of presence.

May each of us be blessed with the ability to be mindful, to pay attention, to be present each and every step of the glorious climb up the mountain. This is the greatest present of all.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Rabbi B

My New Book:
Revolution of the Jewish Spirit: How to Revive Ruakh in Your Spiritual Life, Transform Your Synagogue & Inspire Your Jewish Community [Paperback & Kindle] Rabbi Baruch HaLevi and Ellen Frankel, Jewish Lights