Rosh Hashanah

Picking the Right Resolution for the New Year

It’s important to remember the saying from Avot D’Rabi Natan: “tafasta meruba lo tafasta; tafasta mi’ut, tafasta.” This means that when a person tries to overdo it, they often end up accomplishing nothing. We’re better off taking on a small resolution that is realistic for us to be able to maintain.
  1. While it’s tempting to try to tackle the areas that we struggle with the most, this can be counterproductive. It’s more constructive to choose an area that is slightly less challenging for us, in order to ensure that we will be able to keep our resolution for the entire upcoming year.
  2. The best form of resolution is one which is comprised of several components. Pick one general area, and then create a multipronged resolution based on that. For example, if a person wants to work on the area of prayer, a good idea for a resolution would be the following three part plan:
    1. Learn 2-3 minutes a day about the laws of prayer. (It’s important to keep this learning session daily, without exception, so that the resolution won’t lose its strength.)
    2. Learn daily from a book which explains the concepts and meaning of the daily prayers.
    3. Pray to be successful in prayer. The Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) is very powerful, so we need G-d’s assistance to overcome it.
  3. Keep in mind that the Yetzer Hara is very tricky. He’ll try to get us, specifically in the area of our resolution, because that’s the way G-d designed the system. This knowledge will help us move forward, even if we slip up a little, and continue to keep our resolution.
  4. The idea behind selecting to work on an area that is not overly challenging for us is based on the idea that the Yetzer Hara won’t try to fight us, once we are firmly in the habit of succeeding in a particular area. If we resolve to strengthen an area, where it is likely that we will succeed, we will have added another area that the Yetzer Hara will choose not to fight.
  5. It is told about a particular Rabbi, who was once completely unobservant, that he came to total mitzva observance after accepting upon himself to light Shabbat candles. This shows the power of firmly accepting one mitzva. (Unfortunately, this story does not have a source.)
  6. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the “Mussar (ethics) Movement,” said that it is worthwhile to take on a resolution that is easy to keep. (Ohr Yisrael, Letters 7, 8 & 15)
  7. It’s an excellent idea to take on a resolution together with a group of people. This way, everyone can share ideas about how to make it work. Also, people feel more of an obligation to keep a resolution when they accepted it as part of a group.
  8. Writing can be a very helpful in maintaining a resolution. Write down daily whether or not you have been successful in your resolution, and any ideas you have for the future. It’s also a good idea to write reminders to yourself about your resolution, and put them in a place where you will see them.
  9. Here’s a list of possible areas to choose:
    1. Eating: eat food with reliable kosher supervision; separate milk and meat; make proper blessings before and after eating; make blessings aloud.
    2. Internet: get an effective filter for your internet access; select one hour a day when you will not access the internet; select one particular site that you will no longer access
    3. Faith: focus on how everything is for the good; learn books related to the topic of belief in G-d
    4. Interpersonal mitzvahs: acts of loving kindness; charity; smiling at someone who needs it; helping a particular family member; strengthening love of fellow Jews; refraining from gossip; refraining from hurting others with speech
    5. Blessings: select one blessing which you will recite from a printed text, such as Grace after Meals, Asher Yatzar (the blessing said after using the restroom), blessings said before eating, blessings said before studying Torah
    6. Honoring parents: learning about the laws of honoring parents; selecting one hour a day when we will be careful to honor them; praying to be successful in honoring parents; selecting one component of the mitzvah, such as not sitting in their place, not lying in their bed, standing up when they enter the room
    7. Jewish Ethics: Learn one of the classic “mussar” texts, such as Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just) or Orchot Tzadikim (Way of the Righteous). Make an effort to learn a thought, or a few lines every day.
    8. Traits: Focus on one particular character trait, such as telling the truth, acting with kindness, gratitude, alacrity, unity, respecting others, loving others, patience, humility, modesty. To do this most effectively, select one small component of this trait. For example, if you choose patience, once a day, if someone cuts you off while driving, when there’s traffic, or when someone is acting in an annoying way, respond patiently. Then the challenge will be transformed into an opportunity for development of this positive trait.
    9. Judging others favorably: select one person whom you will choose to view in a positive way
    10. Shabbat: refraining from a particular violation; setting a timer before Shabbat to turn lights or air conditioning on and off on automatically on Shabbat; lighting Shabbat candles with a blessing before Shabbat; reciting “Kabalat Shabbat” at the onset of Shabbat; attending synagogue at least once on Shabbat; eating special foods which are designated for Shabbat; singing Shabbat zemirot at the Shabbat meals
    11. Torah: learn with the children regularly; attend a weekly or daily Torah class; pay attention while reciting the blessings said before the study of Torah
    12. Prayer: make an effort to focus on one particular prayer, such as the first blessing of the “Shemoneh Esrei” or the verse “Shema”; praying in synagogue; praying at the right times; praying with joy

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