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.