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Lasting Change this Rosh Hashanah
Mom with a View

Lasting Change this Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is about commitments, not resolutions.


On December 31st, we make New Year’s resolutions. Many of these goals are related to diet and exercise, particularly after the over-indulgence of the holiday season. Very few are related to character change. Even fewer are focused on spiritual goals. And, unfortunately, even fewer actually last. We find ourselves facing the following December 31st about to make the same or very similar resolutions. (Although for some of us the resolution to diet is a daily occurrence rather than a yearly one!)

Rosh Hashanah is different. In the first place, the goals are spiritual rather than physical. We want to grow as human beings. We want to improve our character. We want to deepen our relationship with the Almighty. We want to achieve lasting change. And we want it to penetrate beyond the superficial physical level.

But that is not all. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish celebration of the New Year, is not about resolutions; it’s about commitments. It’s not about good ideas; it’s about real change. How do we ensure that we don’t face next Rosh Hashanah the way we face every secular year end? By making commitments, by saying that this new decision, this new action is now inviolable.

Pick one or two things to work on, and be realistic.

This is not so easy to accomplish. We have to choose our commitments very carefully. They have to be small enough and reasonable enough that there is a high chance of success. We should pick one or two things to work on. And we need to be realistic. Some of us can’t commit to never yelling at our husbands ever again. But we can decide that every day, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., we’ll keep our tempers in check – even if requires biting our tongues, going for a walk around the block or engaging in primal scream therapy in a sound-proof room.

Some of us can’t promise to never gossip ever again. We know the temptation is too great. But we can make a commitment not to gossip every day between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., going so far as to not answer the phone/emails/texts during that time if that’s what it takes.

We may not be prepared to keep the whole Shabbos but we could choose to light Shabbos candles every week. And we may not be ready or able to fully immerse ourselves in a curriculum of Jewish learning but we could commit to five minutes per day, every day. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless.

In order to ensure that these commitments are adhered to, it is crucial to incorporate a daily performance review, a cheshbon hanefesh (spiritual accounting) according to Jewish tradition. Rosh Hashanah is the Almighty’s performance review of us. No employee can expect to get a good review (and a raise!) if he just crams in some projects the day before the evaluation. A successful review requires daily effort and evaluation. It demands focus and determination. So too with spiritual change. We need five minutes a day to check ourselves – how am I doing? Did I remember my commitment? Did I keep it? If not, what got in the way and how can I ensure that tomorrow will be different?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the outgoing chief rabbi of Britain said something wonderful recently, “I know there is a God,” he said. “The great news is that He believes is us, which is much more important than our believing in Him.”

We have the potential to change. We have the ability. We have the power. We have the backing and support of the Creator of the world. We just need to recognize it, believe it, and act on it.

August 31, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) scott, September 7, 2013 5:38 AM

Flying blind

I heard somewhere that many new pilots fly out of cloud banks completely upside down. You see they don't fully trust their instruments flying blind and so they make a little adjustment. And then another and another. Until they're upside down. When they fly into clear sky they see what's happening and flip back over.

That's the world. We live in the cloud bank and Elul and the Days of Awe are the clear sky. We reexamine our lives and actions in the clear sky and try to flip back over so that we're starting out right side up for the next cloud bank hoping that we will be better in the clouds.

To continue to torture the metaphor, we're not living in one year cycles. We're flying in eternity and G*d simply gave us breaks in the trip to check our instruments and make sure we're heading in the right direction.

It's not a forward looking's a holiday about reckoning with the past and how we feel about it. We're dumping the baggage from the past so we can fly higher and longer. It's about dumping the guilt and shame that fogs the instruments and prevents us from making true course adjustments. It's a huge job in itself.

Don't muddle it up with additional commitments to fix the future. Focus on fixing the past and how you feel about it. We made all our commitments at need to make more.

Be grateful there are exactly 613. No more and no less and that we have a G*d that accepts our shortcomings and created a self check and a release valve within the laws that will help us do our best to live up to them.

Have a sweet new year.

(4) ruth housman, September 3, 2013 10:59 PM

a spiritual truth

seems to be telling me, gossiping is not a good idea, when it comes to saying things about another person behind their back, which are not positive. I don't "get" this part. Surely people can stop gossiping. That sounds like a no brainer to me, when it comes to a problem. It's got to be a deeper problem if people need to do this so bad, they have to reduce the hours of doing it.

I honestly don't Think G_d cares about the trappings, but rather the spirit of whatever we do, as in respect, reverence, and support for others. Lighting candles means nothing unless done with a deep feeling of reverence for the act and what it means.

In fact, a lot of the time, I believe God is laughing, because there is comic in cosmic, the word itself, and humor keeps lightening our spirits. We are actualizing all aspects of the word LIGHT itself.

Don't ever take yourself too seriously. Enjoy life. Laugh a lot, and feel joy when you can. There is of joy, always oy, because life is hard but we're here to hold each other up to the light, to raise our children high, and to love, with all our hearts, our souls and all our might. That's mighty enough, for me, all the time.

(3) Julia Arango, September 3, 2013 10:39 PM

Rosh Hashana resolutions/commitments

Until recently I thought of promising myself to lose weight as a Dec. 31 resolution, not a RH one. But now I think that taking care of your health is taking care of what HaShem has entrusted to you to do mitzvoth. If your health is poor, it limits your ability do serve Him. True, ill people can serve Hashem in different ways, but if your health is poor because of your poor choices, that's not HaShem's will, it's YOUR fault. For years I've struggled with my weight. It's one reason guys didn't want to date me., and the main reason I'm not in the Army anymore. In the past 2 years I've started having other problems because of my weight, especially with my knees. A few weeks ago I couldn't get under a desk to fix a computer problem. In other words, I wasn't able to do my job 100%. HaShem wants us to do food work for our employers. I am determined to lose at least 25 lbs this year so that I'll be able to work, and serve Hashem. Maybe by showing HaShem that I can take good care of myself, He'll decide I can take good care of a husband, too. For what it's worth, I DO NOT qualify to be on The Biggest Loser TV show!

(2) John, September 3, 2013 9:04 PM

A thankful life

There is no way that we can ever repay The Holy One our Creator for what He is doing for us in our lives, but we can thank Him every day for all our blessings, even the very small ones. Take a few minutes every day only to do that.
Shana Tova u’metuka

(1) Anonymous, September 1, 2013 11:45 PM

It is critical to create goals that are specific. Declaring that: "I will never gossip again" is not only too vague, but it does not allow for mistakes. It is much more realistic to do the following 2 things in setting our goals: 1. They need to be realistic and attainable. 2. They must be specific. That's why it is a much better idea to say I will not gossip between the hours of 6 and 7pm.

Re: Shabbos observance. I just made a commitment to keep the TV off for the 25 hours of Shabbat. I was unable to keep it off for the entire 25 hours, but I succeeded in keeping it off for 1/4 of that time. I have been lighting Shabbat candles practically every week for the last 18 years, and am looking to increase the level of observance. Perhaps I will be able to keep my TV set off for a longer period of time this coming Shabbat.

Shana Tova to you and your family!

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