Dear Rachel,

I was cleaning out my cupboard (you know, spring cleaning) when I came across a bag of old notebooks going back more than a decade. The notebooks had several lists of goals I had wanted to accomplish (both short-term and long-term). I was disheartened to discover that not only had I not achieved most of them, but that over the intervening years, the goals I had set for myself had become even less attainable—I had gained more weight instead of losing, for example, and had used up some of my savings instead of saving more money. I don’t know how to put a positive spin on this.


Dear Courageous,

First of all, kudos to you for wanting to put a positive spin on this because that’s what success is really about—finding the good in every situation. Nachum Ish Gam Zu was a famous rabbi who was called that because for every bad thing that happened to him, he said: “This, too, is for the good.”

Judaism isn’t about achieving goals. It’s about the process of striving to be better—not about being but about becoming. All the mitzvot have been given to us to help us in the process of becoming who we were meant to be by continually working on ourselves by serving G‑d. And it’s a never-ending process. Even after we die, the mitzvot we did and the people we’ve left behind continue to give us merit and raise our souls to an even higher level.

Let me tell you something else about not reaching your goals: You’re in good company. One of Moses’ greatest desires was to enter the Land of Israel. In the beginning of the Torah portion Va’etchanan, Moses tells the Israelites that he begged G‑d to allow him to enter Israel. The numeric value of the word va’etchanan, which means “entreated,” is 515, and the Midrash tells us that Moses actually prayed to the Creator 515 times to enter the Land of Israel. But G‑d told him to desist and accept His decision. And there was a greater reason for him not entering.

King David, too, wanted very much to build the Temple. But he couldn’t because the one who built the Temple could not have blood on his hands, and David had killed others in the battles he had fought for G‑d. So the Temple had to wait until his son, King Solomon, took the throne. King David was disappointed, even though he left us an enduring accomplishment: the book of Psalms.

These were lofty goals, but even lofty goals cannot be accomplished when G‑d has other plans—plans whose higher purpose we cannot fathom.

As for you, what about the things that you achieved that weren’t on your list? In the decade since you compiled it, have you worked on a personality trait? Contributed to a worthy project? Made a new friend? Been a good neighbor? We often ignore our accomplishments—the acts of charity, kindness or friendship that we take for granted, and that weren’t on our list but may be even more important. Being beautiful, rich, accomplished or famous are things many of us strive for but G‑d considers kindness, humility and connection with Him to be paramount goals.

“What does G‑d require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G‑d?” (Micah 6:8)

There’s nothing wrong with having physical goals like losing weight or monetary goals like saving money to take a trip or buy a house, but those aren’t the ones with which to judge your progress. As long as you strive to be kinder and more humble, and work to forge a deeper connection with G‑d through mitzvot, prayer and Torah study, then even the most incremental progress is something to be proud of, and more importantly, an accomplishment that doesn’t diminish over time.

Wishing you success in coming closer to these worthy goals!