I am having a really hard time getting motivated this High Holiday season. I have been in a spiritual funk for quite a while, actually, and not really “feeling it.” I had quite a hard year, full of spiritual losses, and I kind of wish I could sit this one out, even though I know that's not possible. All the things I planned to improve during this past year didn't improve, and I'm hesitant to make a new round of resolutions I know I won't keep.

Any suggestions on how an overworked, stressed-out, tired parent can get closer to G‑d and spiritually ready for a new year?


I’m sorry to hear that you had a difficult year. We all go through times when spirituality seems more difficult to access for any number of reasons, and being a parent has its own unique set of challenges. According to the Hassidic teachings, the main thing is not to let these times when we fall into a “funk” draw us down. Life is like a wrestling match, and the only way to “win” is by maintaining a state of joy and an open heart. That being said, your disappointment over the past year can itself serve as motivation to make some positive changes this coming year. The fact that you have asked this question indicates that you already do have the open heart that is a prerequisite for overcoming obstacles.

On a practical note, I’d like to make some suggestions:

  1. Never, ever make a resolution that you know you won’t be able to keep. Choose three resolutions that you know you can keep. Make sure they’re small. Not, “I’m going to pray with more intent from now on,” but, “For the next month, I will pray the morning blessings from a prayer book (not by heart, running after the kids), and try to focus on the words of the first paragraph of the shema prayer.” Not “I’m really going to treat others better this year,” but, “Once a day, every day, for a month, I will make a point of saying something nice or giving a compliment to someone I meet.” Set a goal that is relatively small, and for a specified time. Set yourself up for success, and then you can build on that success.
  2. Make time for yourself to do some learning during the next few weeks before the holidays (and indeed, throughout the year). You need to nourish yourself spiritually. Hire a baby-sitter if necessary and possible, and find a local class that interests you. If that’s impossible, set aside twenty minutes or a half hour a few times a week to study on Jewish.TV. You can select what appeals to you from a range of Jewish videos and lectures. Put it into your daily planner. Get up twenty minutes early, before the children wake up, if you can’t make time during the day. Browse The Judaism Website – Chabad.org for articles on any Jewish topic. I’m sure you will find this time to be invaluable in terms of inspiration and motivation.
  3. Try reading stories of others who have lived inspiring lives, or who have displayed tremendous inner strength. It is ten years since 9-11. You might read about the incredible courage that people displayed during that terrible time. Take some time to reflect on the tremendous core of inner strength that each of us has and can draw upon.

In terms of finding spirituality while contending with the challenges of parenthood, I would like to share with you a story:

The holy Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli spent much time wandering through Poland, dressed as beggars. One evening they arrived in a small town where the “head beggar” was very worried that they might cut in on his “territory.” He trumped up a charge against them to the local authorities, who promptly arrested the two brothers and threw them into the local jail. Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Zusha found themselves in a large cell, surrounded by the dregs of society, with a big bucket in the center for human waste.

In the morning Rabbi Elimelech started crying bitterly.

“Brother, why do you cry?” asked Rabbi Zushe.

“How can I not cry? It is time to pray morning services, and yet we cannot, because there is human waste in this room!”

Rabbi Zushe cheerfully responded, “The same G‑d who commanded us to pray also commanded us not to pray under these circumstances. On other days we fulfill His will by praying; today we will fulfill His will by not praying.”

He took Rabbi Elimelech by the arm and they began to dance around the bucket, rejoicing that here too they could fulfill the will of G‑d. Their joy was so infectious that soon all the inmates were dancing and singing with the two holy men.

Hearing all the commotion, the prison warden came running in. He grabbed one of the criminals and barked “What’s going on? Why is everyone singing and dancing?!”

“I dunno. These two Zhids,” he pointed at the brothers, “started it. I think they’re happy about the bucket.”

“We’ll see about that!” The warden took the bucket and stormed out.

And Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Zusha continued dancing with even greater intensity—because now they could serve G‑d in prayer.

While we meet the mundane in our daily lives, we need to know that every little thing can be channeled towards a positive purpose. If we cannot pray or be “spiritual” at this moment because we are purchasing food for the Jewish holiday, this is also G‑d’s will, and we need to dance and be happy, knowing that, at this moment, this is how we are meant to serve G‑d. If we need to bring our kids to the synagogue to listen to the blowing of the shofar, it may not be as spiritual as going by ourselves, but it is the most important thing we can be doing at that moment.

We can serve G‑d, not only with prayer and by doing what we call the “spiritual stuff,” but also when we clean, do errands, change diapers, drive carpools, listen, support, encourage and uplift our children, ad infinitum. All these seemingly mundane acts, when done with the correct intentions, are exactly what G‑d wants us to do.

We should all merit to approach all aspects of our lives—the exciting and the infuriating, the uplifting and the mundane, the spiritual and the physical—with joy and a happy heart; for it is G‑d’s will in creating the physical world that we engage with the mundane in order to uplift it and transform it into something spiritual.

Please see our selection on Parenting; Parenthood.

Chaya Sara Silberberg
for The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org