New Year’s resolutions abound. They include commitments such as biting your tongue when your mother-in-law is present (my mother-in-law excluded), attending Shabbat services each week for the entire year, losing that extra 10 pounds this year, and working a little less and spending more time with your family.
The funny thing is that by the time we put away the Torah after the final dance on Simchat Torah, the resolutions have vanished like the Rosh Hashanah brisket. If you are the hardy type, you might make it to the first rain of the Cheshvan winter or maybe as far as Chanukah. But how many keep the impassioned resolutions made at the year’s start?
Don’t fear; you are in good company. In fact the Torah alludes to this (according to one commentator) in the following verse: “The eyes of G-d are upon the land from the beginning of the year until the end of year.”
The obvious grammatical issue with this verse is that the second “the” is missing. It should read “until the end of the year.”
The idea presented in this verse is that we often begin the year saying this is going to be the year — the year that all these changes are going to take place, for real this time. But by the time the end of the year comes around and we look back at the year, it turns out to just be another year.
I’d like to share two thoughts: a comforting one and a challenging one.
The comforting thought: “The righteous fall seven times and get up.” People who don’t make resolutions don’t stand a chance. Even the righteous fall, but they constantly get up, continuously trying and striving. Keep making resolutions because it is a sign of a person who is not satisfied with where he or she is.
Some years ago we had a family therapist conduct a discussion group one evening for the parents of the Intown Jewish Preschool. One of the moms, in presenting a parenting question, called herself a bad mom.
The therapist asked her how many moms were enrolled in the preschool and how many moms were present that evening. About 30 percent of the moms were there. The therapist concluded, “The fact that you are here this evening is a sign that you are a good mom.”
A good mom is not the one who has it all figured out, but the one who never stops trying and never stops exploring how to be a better mom.
The challenging thought: One of the books that influenced my thinking and approach to life (besides the Torah, Talmud and Tanya) is called “Goals!” by Brian Tracy.
Tracy talks about people who set goals, high goals, maybe even unrealistic goals. Even though these people may not achieve the goals they set, they ultimately accomplish a lot more than those who don’t set goals.
By way of analogy (my analogy), a 5-foot-7, 200-pound man may wake up one morning and resolve to lose 50 pounds. That may be an unrealistic goal and an overly ambitious one. Then you have a 5-foot-7, 180-pound, nonexercising, couch-sitting man who doesn’t make any resolution to lose weight.
Come back in 12 months, and the 180-pound man will likely still be 180 pounds (or maybe more), but the 200-pounder will likely have lost 30 to 40 pounds.
Setting high goals, even if they are out of reach, ultimately accomplishes more than setting lower, achievable goals or no goals at all.
Notwithstanding the above, our sages say the first tablets of the law, given with a lot of noise (thunder and lightning), ended up broken. The second tablets, given quietly (brought down from the mountain on the day after Yom Kippur by Moses), remained intact.
The moral from the sages is that you should make resolutions, but make them quietly, without proclamation. Those who make big announcements about the big changes coming to their lives rarely accomplish anything; the ones who go about their business by constantly striving for lofty goals are the real movers and shakers.
So make big resolutions this year, and whether you accomplish 100 percent of them or only 50 percent, this will be the year.
My blessings to you and yours for a wonderful year in all matters material and spiritual, good, huge but quiet resolutions, and the commitment to follow through.
Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman is co-director of Chabad Intown.