“Good resolutions are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account”
— Oscar Wilde.
How many of us actually still make New Years resolutions? I bet that some of us still do. Most of us, however, may make them around the High Holy Days, and many of us who do make these resolutions have this little voice speaking to us, yelling “Futile! Futile! You’ll never follow through on these.” And as much as we don’t want to give credence to intrusive thought, we know that often, this proves to be the case. Resolutions are too often ideals we aspire to but for which we have no foundation to stand.
Judaism refuses to accept this. The Jewish tradition tells us that there is always an account from which we can draw those cheques. We all start off with and can return to a pure soul. The key is starting off with manageable goals rather than lofty impossible ones. SMART goals, in other words (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)— רesolutions that are appropriate for us, measurable so we can actually evaluate how we’re doing, and relevant enough for us to actually want to follow through.
The rabbis in Pirkei Avot teach, mitzvah goreret mitzvah, aveirah goreiret aveira— a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and a sin leads to another sin. They recognize that one does not need to make a large change all at once, because what’s important is that we establish habit. If we get used to not following through on resolutions and taking the easy albeit destructive route, we will follow that path down into a pit of despair and self-justification. But, if we take one good turn, and repeat every day, we will take on more and more, with greater success.
If one wants to find a reasonable SMART resolution to make for this coming year, one need not look any farther than the mitzvot, many of which are, in essence, specific, measurable, attainable, timely, and meaningful too. We have mitzvahs for everything. Going to the gym and eating well are mitzvot. Spending time with your children and raising them well are mitzvot. And for some great ones to help improve your own life and your community’s, turn to the Eilu d’varim text in our morning prayers: honor our parents, rejoice with brides and grooms, console the bereaved, visit the sick, study, and make peace between fellows.
This New Years, decide on a new mitzvah to bring into your life. Take it on. See where you can make a difference, for yourself and for others. Then after reaping the benefits and joys of one, you just might be ready for another, and another, until your cup overflows with blessing and successfully fulfilled resolutions.
A happy and sweet secular New Year to all.
Published in Temple Emanu-El of Edison’s 2018 Kolaynu.