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Broken New Year's Resolutions

Broken New Year's Resolutions


New Year's resolutions are an accepted part of society. These resolutions are made by all sorts of people, regardless of their values or religion. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is no exception — it is traditionally a time for positive resolutions in the realm of Torah and mitzvot.

As we know all too well, many resolutions don't last very long. A study I found on the internet suggested that by the time summer arrives, more than half of all New Year's resolutions taken on January 1st have been long forgotten.

What is the secret to maintaining our resolve in the long term?

What is the secret to maintaining our resolve in the long term?The desire for the next year to be more fulfilling than the past one is a basic human characteristic. While the human being has many natural needs and desires, both physical and emotional, a feeling of mission and accomplishment is perhaps the most basic human need. Regardless of degree of affluence or social status, a person who feels accomplished is a happy person and a successful person, and vice versa. This is what distinguishes the human from the animal, as Solomon writes, "The spirit of the Man is that which ascends on high, and the spirit of the animal is that which descends below to the earth."1 Whereas the animal is primarily concerned with its coarse and base "earthly" needs and desires, the refined human is constantly seeking to ascend yet higher, realizing that as much as he or she may have accomplished, there is always plenty of room for improvement.

But here lies the problem. A resolution which is predicated on satisfying one's own needs will be broken as soon as the person feels another, more pressing, need or desire. Yesterday, I may have decided that the most important thing for me is to wake up early every day to exercise, but as I lie in bed this morning after having gone to sleep at 1:00 a.m., I suddenly feel that my sleep is infinitely more important than exercise! One human need can always cancel out another human need.

The Torah's approach to positive resolutions, however, is quite different. The resolve to change one's ways is an integral part of the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance), and teshuvah is not at all based on the human emotional need for improvement. Teshuvah isn't, "Oh my, I've had another lousy year, I feel lousy, I got to be better." Rather, teshuvah is the realization that our purpose on this world to serve our Creator, and unfortunately, we are not serving G‑d to the best of our abilities. Teshuvah means regretting our past indiscretions because they violated G‑d's will, and resolving to be a true servant of G‑d's in the upcoming year.

A commitment which results from genuine teshuvah will be lasting, because after accepting upon oneself the yoke of Heaven, no other "pressing" human desire will interfere with the firm resolution to be a servant of G‑d.

"Israel will be redeemed only through teshuvah. However, the Torah has guaranteed that at the end of the Exile the Jews will do teshuvah and be immediately redeemed."2 Let us repent properly; and may we usher in a sweet new year, the year of our sorely awaited Redemption.


Maimonides, Laws of Teshuvah 7:5.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Laurie Braverman Boca Raton, Florida September 24, 2008

Teshuva Finally, I learned what exactly teshuva means and how to achieve it!!

I was one of the many who said exactly what you said in your article, I want to try and improve myself this year. However, I left out the most important ingredient, which is, of course, getting closer to my creator and focusing on the real purpose of my life here on this planet.

Thank you so much for the insight!! Reply

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