As we are about to begin the new year, I wish to offer my best wishes for a sweet year of good health, prosperity, and happiness for all.
One of the customs at the beginning of the secular new year on January first is to make a new year’s resolution. With all the frivolity that takes place at that time of year, there is at least one serious aspect to it, the idea of self improvement in some area. This custom did not originate with the secular world. I can’t help but believe that it is taken from how Judaism looks at the new year. For us, resolving to improve is not only the primary concern, it is the only concern. Not kind of the afterthought it is on January first.
Self improvement is very hard. It requires change. Most people fail at their new years resolutions even though they are seriously undertaken. This is true both in general a society and in our own. We try and commit to no longer transgress the precepts of the Torah. And most of us do not succeed. One may ask, “What’s the point?” If we know we are going to fail, based on the fact that we do this every year asking forgiveness for transgressions we tried to avoid but failed to accomplish?
One of the great Jewish Baalei Mussar (ethicists) of recent times (I believe it was R’ Shlomo Wolbe) was asked this very question. His answer was that as long as we are sincere in trying to change – even if we never do, that sincerity is meaningful enough to gain God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The point is that we should not be discouraged by the feeling of certain failure. It should not lessen our resolve to keep our new year’s resolution. As long as we mean it. As long as we realize that we were wrong in violating any transgressions, and truly regret them. The Teshuva is real and meaningful even knowing that we will mostly likely fail.
In addition to resolving to not transgress God’s law we should also try to be more meticulous in those observances we do keep. Not by observing every Chumra. But by trying to fulfill the basics correctly. When most people think of observance – they think of ritual observance: Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas HaMishpacha and the like. Those are obviously Miztvos Bein Adam L’Makom and keeping them correctly is of paramount importance. But of equal importance are the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero. Those Mitzvos that apply to interpersonal relationships.
One cannot be meticulous in only one of those two categories and think he is satisfying the will of God. And yet when it comes to buying an Esrog (which is obviously a Bein Adam L’Makom Mitzvah) many Jews will spend a great deal of time, effort, and money choosing the nicest one they can find.
Is not our fellow man at least as valuable as an Esrog? How about we try and treat our fellow man the same way? How about spending the time, effort, and money to treat each other with respect, dignity, and kindness? How about we give our fellow man the benefit of the doubt? How about we look out for the welfare of our fellow, man? How about we do more charitable acts? How about we try and increase the amount of charity we give? And when I say “we” I of course include myself!
Have we been less than successful doing that over the year? Should we not resolve to be more meticulous in that just as we resolve to be more meticulous in ritual observance? Of course we should!
We should reflect as much on how we treated our fellow man as we do on how we performed any ritual and realize that if we are lacking in either realm - resolve to do better. Because the truth is the requirement of Bein Adam L’Chavero is as much a Godly mandate as is Bein Adam L’Makom. In fact if one’s interpersonal relationships are not sourced in our Godly mandate to do them, they are not considered a fulfillment of those Mitzvos. The bottom line for the Jewish people is that every thing we do should be God centered. Serving God is how we should look at everything we do.
It is with this thought that I leave you and wish everyone Ksiva V’Chasima Tova - Shana Tova U’Mesuka.