Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

How to keep improving after the High Holiday season?

Every little bit helps

If things are well, we’re still a little bit high from the High Holidays and the ensuing Festival week-plus. One of my rabbis responded: “That’s how we can tell that it was real what we did.” No doubt, that’s why we have not yet resumed saying our 12-times-a-week Supplication (Tachanun).

An important question though, before the momentum runs out of steam is, how to keep up the good work?

It is fabulous that Jews get an extensive and intensive chance each year to reexamine how we’re doing — and subsequently to make amends. But we don’t want things to go South from then on. The idea is to keep improving.

True, it’s not so simple to keep our enthusiasm from Elul and Tishray going. These are not special months for nothing. It’s hard to stay the course of steady improvement. So, our first effort should be, not to go down-hill.

There are two things we can do that may help not to backtrack and to advance: general things to help us improve and specific things to do so.

General — Happy go Lucky

Be happy. That’s not optional in Judaism. Moses (Deuteronomy 28:47) tells us that doing the Commandments but without being happy is a major sin.

(I asked a few rabbis on Purim how it can be that being happy on Purim is a Commandment from the Torah while Purim itself is instituted by the Sages? They all replied, But this is not from the Torah! I replied: “But, it is. It is from the Torah for the whole year.” On Purim one can be so naughty.)

When we realize what being happy does for us, we’d never leave house (bed) without it. Not for nothing, the last Festival was Rejoicing of the Law.

As I explained before, Let’s just do it.

And it’s easy to get discouraged. We need to surround ourselves with optimistic Jews/people. And learn new Jewish stuff as often as you can. Frequency is more important than quantity of quality. There’s no greater joy than learning Jewish stuff.

Let’s not ignore feelings, small or big. Let’s take time for them. Our brain doesn’t generate them for nothing. (It’s not a malfunction. Rather, when our vast intelligence detects a chance to get over some old trauma, it hints at that by re-creating past feelings. We need to cry, laugh, shiver, blush, talk/write about it, which are signs we are healing. Then an accumulation of distresses won’t, sooner or later, slow and drag us down. And we should also take time to celebrate success (through the same mechanisms).

When beginning or maintaining improving ourselves is hard, we can also pray for having it easier.

Specific — The Small Stuff is Big Stuff Too

Repentance generally works well like this: Try to find something small to improve. If it seems impossible, we should try to make the effort anyway or shrink the challenge. It may be not within our reach (yet) to never again … — then let’s just pass only now. It may be hard to go to a prayer quorum every afternoon — let’s just go once. If that didn’t work, at least free up time you would need to go. If that’s too difficult, reserve half that time.

Every step up brings up the next step to step up — and a passion to do so. There is no comparison between people who constantly invest (a little) energy into improving and those who are simply living out their days!

Every little helps. It doesn’t get more complicated.

Only when we’re ready to decide permanently, we could add some ideas on how to do that too. First, we must be sure that we’re ready to commit forever. It’s outright unhelpful to make a big commitment and then give up. Better not to commit at all then. But when we’re really ready, we need to withdraw. Big decisions are best made in solitude. Preparation may involve others. Celebrations afterward too. But big choices we make on our own. Maybe go somewhere special. A place with a view, a nature spot.

If we couldn’t do it, G^d would not patiently and lovingly expect it of us. Or have left us alive at all still. Let’s have a great year and the rest of our lives!

Have a great Marchesvan and a healthy winter!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a vegan for 8 years now. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. To see other blog posts by him, a second blog - under construction - can be found by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture.
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