New Year’s Resolutions
Dasee Berkowitz is a writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and kids. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, Times of Israel, Forward.com and Kveller.com.
Ever notice that gym memberships are reduced the last couple of weeks of December? New Year’s resolutions are in full swing. The promise of starting over, losing weight, being more focused at work and finally becoming more organized are atop many people’s ‘to do’ lists for the coming year.
Jews are no strangers to New Year’s resolutions, in fact we have the whole month of Elul to prepare for them and the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to deeply reflect on how to integrate our resolutions into our lives. The process of teshuva, the main work of the Jewish New Year is one of returning to our best selves (from lashuv meaning return). And while we might make promises to ourselves that are similar to the ones our friends make during this winter season, there are some significant differences: resolutions around the Jewish New Year are relational and they focus on the past to fuel our change for the future.
The element of self-improvement might be a part of it, but our focus is on the other. The work that we do around Rosh Hashanah falls into two categories, which the Rabbis present. The first is interpersonal – or bein adam l’chavero (between a person and his/her friend) and the second is inter-spiritual, or bein adam l’makom (between a person and God). The work we do is centered around improving our relationship with others who we might have offended or hurt over the past year, and enhancing the quality of our Jewish lives through developing a relationship with the ultimate other, God.
Jewish New Year’s resolutions are based on an honest assessment of our past. The liturgy around Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur helps us hone in on how we have spoken, behaved (and misbehaved) and generally missed the mark. Only after reflection on who and how we have been in the past year can we think about who and how we want to be in the coming year. We aren’t flippant to say, “that was then and this is now.” What happened then has a big impact on what will happen now and into the future. An honest assessment of who we have been in the past year will give us the tools to really change in the coming one.
We all know that change is a serious thing. One study showed that 88% of those who set New Year’s resolutions on January 1st failed in keeping them (Richard Wiseman from University of Bristol, 2007). Real change is a process. That process begins on Elul and continues into Rosh Hashanah. And now that the Gregorian calendar is changing from one year to the next, this milestone is an invitation to us to check in on that process of teshuva that we began back September. When we sat in synagogue for all those hours, with our machzors on our laps, surrounded by friends and loved ones and yet alone and quiet in our thoughts, what came up for us? What did we focus on? What promises did we make to ourselves and to others? And how can we make good on those promises these four months later.
When January first rolls around, let’s think about how the Jewish paradigm of teshuva, in which we focus not only on self-improvement but on the relationships in our lives (bein adam l’chavero and bein adam l’makom) and honestly reflect on who we were this past year to inspire us to change our lives and the lives of our communities in the coming year for the better.
By Dasee Berkowitz.
Dasee is a writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and kids. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, Times of Israel, Forward.com and Kveller.com.