As you can see from the accompanying cartoon, it is so easy to make a promise, but not so easy to keep it. Poor Cartoon Abe regretted
what he promised. As our High Holy Day prayer book impels us to consider:
“Last year’s confession came easily to the lips, Will this year’s come from deeper than the skin?”
Religion has been rightly criticized for being perfunctory and at times hypocritical. Our high ideals are easily turned against us for failings, large or small. Even so, a serious devotee of faith must exercise a great effort of introspection and from the Jewish point of view a change of behavior for its own sake. The tradition from the Ethic of the Ancestors to (Pirke Avot, Chapter One) put it this way: “Lo hamidrash hu ha’ikar elah ha’ma’aseh” (1:17) – “It is not the interpretation of the tradition that is essential, but our deeds.”
Jewish ideology thwarts the view that we are born in sin, rather we speak of two contesting impulses; the Yester Tov “a will to do good,” and a Yester-ra “a will to do evil.” A mid second century rabbi Shimon ben Elazar explained it this way; The “will to do evil” is like iron in a forge: While it is there, one can shape it, make utensils of it, anything you like. So with the will to do evil: There is only one way to shape it aright, through the words of the Torah which is like fire.”
Not so different from New Year’s resolutions is the resolve we have to diet, be more charitable, control our impulses, and so forth. How does real change occur? Many have cited a few crucial ways to effect change.
First is to realize you cannot do anything alone: As a former 5th step counselor at the Betty Ford center I learned the value of a trusted partner to review one’s struggles. In Jewish terms we find that dynamic expressed in Pirke Avot Chapter One, K’nei lecha chaver, find a friend (for study and reflection). Second, is to take realistic steps – one by one by one; do not overplay your expectations. Third, take time every day for reflection and prayer. Note taking and journaling is most helpful. Make up your own Sefer Chayim – Book of life. Fourth and last, be nice to yourself, accept you are not perfect and trust in a forgiving God.
Wishing one and all the very best for 5779 Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.