BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT //
It’s strange the sort of emphasis that’s put on the New Year.
Each year, we have 12 new months, 52 new weeks and even 365 new days, and yet so many people see Jan. 1 as a day of redemption – the day when our past mistakes and grievances disintegrate and we can start fresh.
“This year,” we tell ourselves. “This is the year” to quit smoking, lose 10 pounds, get married, get a promotion, get good grades, learn a new language, erase debt and chase that childhood dream.
I’m not calling New Year’s resolutions foolish. It’s important to have goals and aspirations, things to work towards and to keep us motivated.
What I’m skeptical about is the instantaneous change that people expect when they flip the page on their calendar and stumble into a new year.
Take, for example, the hypothetical Schmoe family:
Joe Schmoe has dinner with his family on Dec. 31. Mrs. Schmoe has put out a beautiful table cloth over the wooden dining room table, set two sterling silver candlesticks in the middle, and put out the family’s nice china, complete with wine glasses and napkin rings.
Joe sits down with his children, Boy Schmoe and Girl Schmoe, and Mrs. Schmoe pulls dinner from the oven and pours wine for herself and her husband.
The four of them dine and chat, reminiscing about the year that’s passed. They can’t help but think about all of it – about how strange it feels to be 365 days away from last year’s New Years Eve, about how so much has changed since then while, at the same time, so much remains the same.
Finally, Joe asks:
“So what are everyone’s New Year’s resolutions?”
After moments of consideration, each person answers. Mrs. Schmoe will lose 10 pounds, Joe will stop working late nights at the office, and Girl and Boy Schmoe both vow to spend more time outside. Done.
Later, the ball drops and they clink their flutes of champagne and sparkling apple juice. The kids stay up playing iPhone games, Joe finishes up some reports for work, and Mrs. Schmoe sits in the living room with chocolate cake, watching the celebrities in Times Square.
But tomorrow, all of this will change, right?
Probably – for a little bit.
Then, maybe Mrs. Schmoe will have a birthday lunch and indulge in dessert. Maybe Joe will have a presentation to prepare for, keeping him in the office late one night. Maybe the kids get stuck inside one day because the weather stops them from going out. They’ll get frustrated with themselves for failing and, before they know it, they’ve all given up.
Why? Because turning a page in your life is not as easy as turning the page in your calendar. We need to be ready. We need to have a plan.
Mrs. Schmoe can’t go from chocolate-lover to salad-lover because the calendar says it’s time to change – and neither can anyone else.
In this week’s parshah, Va’eira, G-d speaks to Moses. G-d says He has heard the cries of his people and He is going to redeem them from slavery. Even G-d, though, understands that a change of that stature can be overwhelming. Therefore, G-d says to Moses:
“I am the Lord, and I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you…And I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a G-d to you…I will bring you to the land…I will give it to you as a heritage (Exodus 6:6-8).”
Notice all of the promises, the individual steps: I will save, I will redeem, I will take, I will be a G-d, I will bring and I will give you a heritage. But even with all that planning, things do not start smoothly.
Moses cried out to G-d, “Behold, I am of closed lips; so how will Pharaoh hearken to me? (Exodus 6:30).”
G-d immediately responded, showing us that a struggle is no reason for quitting. He comforts Moses and tells him:
“I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker. You shall speak all that I command you, and Aaron, your brother, shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7: 1-3).”
The rest of the story is well known:
Pharaoh won’t believe Moses, and so Moses will turn his staff into a serpent. Still Pharaoh’s heart will not soften, and so G-d will send down 10 plagues, and the Israelites will walk towards freedom.
Then, Pharaoh will change his mind and chase after them, and G-d will part the Red Sea and then allow the waters to fall in and drown the Egyptians, and thus, the Israelites will be free.
We won’t read about the miracle of the Red Sea and the freeing of the Israelites for two more weeks. Patience – that’s what we are being taught here.
We see G-d as omnipotent and omniscient, and yet He did not save the Israelites instantly. G-d first made the choice to free them, then planned their escape, spoke to leaders, dealt with obstacles and, eventually, was able to pronounce the Israelites as free.
So – if G-d doesn’t make abrupt changes, why should we put that pressure on ourselves? Give yourself time. Sit down with your friends and family and ask yourself what you really hope to gain in the coming year.
Build a plan for what to do when your plan falls apart. Work towards your goals and dreams, but don’t be discouraged if you fall short a few times.
And when you get there, when you’re accomplished and proud, do as the Israelites did and celebrate, perhaps in the fashion that the singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman offers:
“And Miriam raised her voice with song. She sang with praise and might, we’ve just lived through a miracle, we’re going to dance tonight.”
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.