Healthy Resolutions

Contrary to popular belief, people with OCD are not necessarily neat freaks. Case in point: I can function perfectly well in a messy kitchen, but I don’t like to put awayThe cycle of reading the Torah seems rather messy leftover food (such as casseroles or cakes) with uneven or ragged ends, and so I carefully cut away the excess (which I have to eat, of course), leaving a perfect 90-degree edge. Whether it’s OCD or a vestige from my woodworking days, I have a strong preference for objects to be level, centered and squared-off with straight lines. I also like bucket seats, edged flower borders and TV dinners from the 1970s that separate food into little compartments.

And so the cycle of reading the Torah seems rather messy to me in that it doesn’t end nice and neat with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). As a matter of fact, several Torah portions spill over into the next year, and V’zot Haberachah, which is the last portion of the Torah, comes at the very tail end of the Jewish holidays (Simchat Torah). Furthermore, it is the only Torah portion not read in synagogue on a Sabbath.

In the secular calendar, Jan. 1 is synonymous with making New Year’s resolutions. That is why gyms and organization such as Weight Watchers offer special incentives to join at this time of the year when motivation, as well as false hopes, rides exceptionally high. Statistically, 80 percent of such resolutions fail by the second week of February, and overall, studies suggest that far less than 10 percent of us achieve our resolution goals.

One study I read broke down success in achieving goals within age groups, and the least successful was the over-50 set. That came as a surprise to me since the ever-increasing awareness of my own mortality is a powerful incentive to take seriously Hillel’s famous question, “If not now, when?” But then I thought of the damage that can occur to psyches that have experienced repeated cycles of failure over decades. Eventually, people either don’t even try anymore or make half-hearted attempts with guaranteed disappointment waiting to happen, which then reinforces a fixed view of themselves (and the universe), in which they come up short.

It’s All About Love

The secular New Year’s resolutions center mostly around weighing less, earning more, getting in shape, getting organized and kicking an addiction. In contrast, the themes of the Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah) are about relationships—coming closer and connecting to G‑d, repairing our relationships with other people, and ultimately, engaging in honest self-discovery to make conscious choices for personal growth (our relationship with ourselves).

Thus, the Torah doesn’t end in a nice tidy way at the end of the Jewish year because life and learning are messy affairs without straight lines and clean edges. Furthermore, as soon as we read the last sentence of the last verse of the Torah, with our very next breath we begin the reading of the Torah all over again because the growth process is never ending.

For example, if you consistently engage in an unwanted behavior, over time you will have had a lot of practice at it, and by now, you are probably very good at being the very thing you least desire. Granted, it is far from easy, but when you change what you are doing, you can change who you are being. And so while practice makes perfect, practice itself is never perfect—hence the term. It’s all about making mistakes and learning from them, and recommitting over and over to a goal. One day at a time.

When we come to the end of the Torah, we should be looking back at how we have lived the prior year; at the same time, as we begin the cycle anew, we can reflect upon how to practice better in the coming year. Thus, the “failures” we will undoubtedly experience can be redefined from being a setback that reinforces a negative self-image that cannot be changed to a valuable opportunity for learning and growth on the path of fulfilling potential. This requires compassion for others, as well as for oneself. To that end, the last letter of the Torah is a lamed (pronounced “l”). And the very first letter of the Torah is a beit (pronounced “v”). Together, these two letters from the word “lev,” which means “heart.” Thus, Torah is not merely a cerebral mind game, but a full-fledged heart game because spiritual growth is a whole-hearted affair. And we are never alone in that process.

In V’zot Haberachah, Moses blesses eachWe should be looking back at how we have lived the prior year of the tribes with its unique strengths and gifts. We are all blessed with these multiple attributes to the extent that we need them for our unique spiritual mission. Thus, as we go through our tests and challenges, we are never without the resources, tools and inner strength we need to turn crisis into opportunity and suffering into growth.

While we all may want to live by design, lives of inspiration are nevertheless messy, and therefore, our reasonable goal should not be unattainable perfection, but an ever-present desire to grow and connect. So here’s to your “what was” and what will be your year of sacred moments—your journey of spiritual growth and heart-based Torah.

And may your endings be filled with many new beginnings.

Internalize and Actualize:

  1. Write down a few resolutions that you made that repeatedly get broken. How do you feel about these things when you think about them? Now, write next to those resolutions something practical you can do in each area, starting today, that will work towards those end goals. Make sure it is something small so that you can stick to it.
  2. Now write down some commitments you are able to make in the following areas: Friends, Family, Yourself, Spirituality. In each area, write down something practical that you can do to further connect to those you love, to yourself and your needs, and to your Creator. Again, this should be something doable that you can implement into your life.