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!