My New Year’s Resolution-Do It Now

The Jewish New Year does not have a lot in common with the non-Jewish New Year, January first. For one thing, ours is in the fall and theirs is in the winter. For another, we spend half the holiday praying, the other half eating, and the rest of the time (yes, math is not my forte) moaning about how much we ate, while they tend to blow horns (oh wait, we do too) and shout a lot (I guess that depends on who is in your house).

At any rate, although non-Jews seem to view the new year as a time for celebration rather than quiet prayer and thoughtfulness, the “New Year’s Resolution” is a highly talked about subject in the wider world. Non-Jews understand that the start of a new year can be a time for turning over a new leaf, starting again, and working on those parts of our lives that warrant change.  Our new year is overall less a raucous revelry (aside from some uplifting dancing in my shul!) and more a time for introspection, and we are encouraged to take this time and look over our lives in the past year, and decide what traits we want to work on in the coming year. Our “resolutions” tend to be about promising ourselves to stop talking about people, to give more charity, and any other mitzvot (commandments) in which we personally feel we’ve been lax.

In looking over the past year, particularly during the davening, one thing that hit me hard was how much we have *no idea* what is going to happen to us in the next year. To be blunt, would the parents of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have thought last year that they needed to pray for their teenage sons’ lives? I doubt it. As I read unetaneh tokef, which hit home, I thought that no matter how much we take these prayers to heart, we still don’t see. We stand there and ask for what we feel we don’t have, but we don’t always think to ask for what we take for granted—our lives, our families, our health. We need to ask for these things. Moreover, we need to not assume that they are a given. We may not wake up tomorrow, much less get another whole year.

I say this also because this week, just three years ago on Erev Yom Kippur, my father was niftar. He spent the week of Aseret Yemai Teshuva, from Monday evening until Friday at noon, unconscious. I spent the week davening. It was an Aseret Yemei Teshuva to remember.

Last summer, in 2012, my mother started a project to redo her kitchen, after years of planning and saving and hoping to “find time” to get it done. It was finally completed by the winter, but at that time, my mother was too busy in the hospital to appreciate her new kitchen. This past year, my mother, who has always been b”h healthy, was diagnosed with cancer. She has spent this year fighting for her life, hoping and praying for a miracle, for a little more time. It was sudden and shocking. She had plans to retire, and to spend time with her grandchildren and enjoy her new kitchen, to take trips and to do all those things she wanted to do. She now has difficulty just getting from her room, which has been moved to the main floor, to the living room. Others in my family have seen loss and illness and are coping with additional overwhelming shocks, may they receive a refuah as well.

After Unetaneh Tokef, where we say “Let us relate the power of the day…for it is awesome and frightening”, we go on to “B’rosh Hashannah”. Here, we say that Hashem is busy on this day writing down who will live and die, and in what manner.  How can we say that and stand unmoved?

We saw with our own eyes the miracles of this summer, how the rockets, aside from some few awful tragedies like Daniel Tragerman, did things like miss Jewish areas and hit Arab homes instead, knock out their own electricity, and just plain not reach their intended targets. We cried and gathered and said tehillim when our boys were taken, and when they were found niftar, some, probably many, asked themselves, what was the use of my prayers? I know I did. But that was answered soon after when we merited, through our country-wide unity, to prevent our own massacre. We don’t know why Hashem took those boys, those pure neshamas, or why it wasn’t enough of a sacrifice that they were kidnapped when their being missing brought us together. But we saw the results with our own eyes of what Hashem does for a country that prays together.

There have been numerous terrible losses for this country, from innocent and brave soldiers to innocent and brave civilians, and I feel for the families of those grieving their losses. Somehow, though, the loss of these boys touches me personally, perhaps because I took on my own resolution in their name. It is not easy for me, but I struggle to continue despite their fates; now it is l’iluy nehsamot.

Resolutions, making changes in ourselves, is not easy—it is not supposed to be. It is not with a snap of the fingers that we can disengage ingrained bad habits, become different people. But we are assured that that is just what we are supposed to do. We change, and we say, “Hashem, I know you had planned an awful decree for me. But I am not that person anymore. You can rip it up, because it was decreed for someone else.”

When I started writing this, my main thought was to say, in a way, “Carpe Diem”—“Seize the Day”. We do not know what is around the corner for us or for those we love, for our country or for our people around the world. Those things you were planning—don’t wait, do them now if you can. But more importantly, those changes you wanted to make in yourself—this is the time that matters more than any other in the year. We have proof that G-d listens and protects. This is Aseret Yemai Teshuvah—don’t wait.