William Hamilton

Good company

Walk up the ramp at Fenway or in Foxboro or in any ballpark. Your senses light up as you enter the crowd, joining the bright colors, the smells, and the sounds. You feel an electric energy pump inside you. There’s nothing quite like it.

What if there were a setting and a season when you could sense a similar exhilaration associated with self-improvement? Well, there is. And it begins now. This Hebrew month of Elul, which we’ve just begun, is electric with personal growth and interpersonal repair. 

And listening with care to the stand-still sound of the Shofar can soften your heart and stir your soul. It’s even more impressive when you do so in a community, as you can any weekday morning from now until the eve of the Jewish New Year.

When life starts to feel flat, when your soul begins to resemble a vacuum, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel urges you to be like a borrower who repays (cf. Avot 2:14). When you do, it occurs to you that life is a gift. That life itself is a trust. And from these coordinates, feelings of futility begin to fizzle. They give way to fresh wisps of purpose that remind you of how much more you can matter, of what it means to stand for something larger and more lasting.

You may find your own interests syncing up with God’s. You do so not on account of some abstract duty. Not to get some benefit. Rather, simply because you owe it to God, who says:“I made you. I will bear you. I will carry you…Though you may fall, you are not too heavy to rise, for I support you” (Is. 46:4, Ps. 37: 24).

Habit-guru James Clear was recently asked by Adam Grant if he would have written Atomic Habits any differently today. The one thing he’d handle differently is that he would have emphasized the social piece more. This is because people want to fit in. Even more than they want to change their ways. As Clear puts it, “The desire to belong will often overcome the desire to improve.” 

But what about when trying to improve is a way of fitting in. What about when you wake up to walk up a ramp into a new day, to listen to the Shofar’s sound, and you realize your efforts to better a single habit, enjoy a lot of good company. Welcome to Elul. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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