It is customary during the holidays to take stock of the where you’ve been and where you are headed, cheshbon nefesh in Hebrew. We do it as individuals and we do it as a people. This year, I felt the need for this stronger than ever. Maybe it’s my age.
So I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to try and change. In our band, we play Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”. It is a great song to play and I’ve believed my whole life that you can make a difference. It is the reason I chose to make Aliyah all those years ago. It is the reason I spent many years in the IDF. And it’s the reason I went on Shlichut a few years ago to run the Aliyah delegation in North America. But I have long been accused by my wife and kids of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, of worrying about things that I can’t change or influence and taking to heart all sorts of things that I have no ability to impact on the outcome.
And it’s true. I take it to heart when Israel is in trouble. I take it to heart when my children go on dates that don’t work out. And I take it to heart when my sports teams lose. So much so, that I’ve been told that sometimes, when these things happen, I’m not too pleasant to be around.
Well, this year I’ve decided to make a change. Not to change the world, but to change the way I see things and react to them. I still fervently believe in the ability of a person to make a real difference in society. But I am going to try hard to let go of worrying about those things that I can’t change. I am going to try hard to live up to the words of wisdom – you can’t control events, but you can control how you react to them. After all, nothing I personally do is going to influence whether our government makes one decision or another and the repercussions that follow. Nothing I say is going to change what Abu Mazen says at the UN, if Hamas shoots missiles or Da’ash continues to gain steam. Nothing I do or say will decide whether my sports teams win or lose. So if this is the case, why should I worry to the point that it affects me? Why should I pay the price of worrying and literally feeling bad, for the actions of others? No more.
Well, at least that’s my resolution.
It starts by stopping to be addicted to the news. And it starts by stopping to stay up to three in the morning to watch my sports teams from NY play. OK, I’ll make exceptions for the playoffs, World Series and the Superbowl….
But it really starts on focusing on what I can actually do. Here’s an example. Over the past year I’ve been nursing an injury to my leg. A few years ago, as part of my mid-life crisis, I started running. And like many others, got addicted. I went from not being able to run two kilometers without huffing and puffing, to running half marathons. And then I hurt my leg. The doctors are still trying to figure out what’s wrong, but in the meanwhile, I can’t run. And it’s not easy. So I made a decision. I’m not giving up the active, healthier lifestyle I adopted. I signed up for a course to improve my swimming skills. That’s something I can do. But there are other ways too. I can be a better husband, a better parent, a better son, better at my job, a better citizen of our State and of the world in general. And I can be a better member of the Jewish community, both as an individual in my relationship with G-d and as part of the global Jewish community of which I am part. Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze L’ze – all of Israel is responsible to one another. Yes, there are many things I can do in each of these areas to make a real difference.
OK, so that’s a pretty lofty goal too. But it’s the change in direction I’m focusing on. And in the spirit of the holidays, I refer to Rabbi Tarfon’s words in Mishna Avot, “You need not finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Life is short and there is so much to be done, so much we can do to make a difference in the lives of our loved ones, friends, country and world as well as in our personal lifestyles. Even if our actions don’t always bring the change we want, at least not right away, they do make a difference. We don’t have to finish the job, we just have to do our part. And it’s just not right to waste precious time worrying about the things you can’t change.
Well, it’s easier said than done, but here I go. Right before the holiday last week I signed up for the swim course. This morning I listened to music on the way to work and not the news. And though I’ve told her many times before, I told my wife how much I loved her and how lucky I was to have her after all these years.
So folks, I’m going to give this a try. Among the difficult things I plan on doing, I’m going to get un-addicted to the news and refocus my energy. And instead of worrying when in the future I’ll have to hear the siren again that will send me to the shelter, I ‘ll use that time to think about what new trees to plant in my garden after shmita year.