By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Every Motzoei Shabbos, we start off the new week with the saying of Havdala. This is a blessing where we thank Hashem for the upgrades that he grants us such as the Shabbos day, the benefits of daylight over darkness, and the privileges of being Jewish.It is this last point, “Hamavdil bein Yisroel l’amim,” He differentiates between the Jewish people and other nations. thatI’d like to zoom in on in this article.
When the secular new year comes around, I always make it a point to take a look at the lists of the most popular new year’s resolutions. On the government website, usa.gov, there is a list of suggested resolutions. They are as follows: 1. Lose weight. 2. Volunteer to help others. 3. Quit smoking. 4. Get a better education. 5. Get a better job. 6. Save money. 7. Get fit. 8. Eat healthy. 9. Manage stress. 10. Manage debt. 11. Take a trip. 12. Drink less alcohol.
Another list, on the website About.com, is rather similar and goes like this: 1. Spend more time with family and friends. 2. Fit in fitness. 3. Tame the bulge. 4. Quit smoking. 5. Enjoy life more. 6. Quit drinking. 7. Get out of debt. 8. Learn something new. 9. Help others. 10. Get organized.
After studying these lists, I realized that they primarily revolve around the body: to lose weight, to get fit, to quit smoking or drinking, or to manage stress. These are all the needs of the guf, our mortal bodies. Now, while we also ascribe to the positive commandment of “V’nishmartem meod es nafshoseichem – To guard the health of our bodies,” it is the needs of our neshoma, our immortal soul, that is the primary focus of our existence. Thus, our resolutions are quite different and revolve around character improvement such as: 1. I will not gossip about others. 2. I will avoid lying. 3. I will make up with people that I am at odds with. 4. I will try not to be envious of others. Rather, I will rejoice in their success and prosperity. 5. I will be more loving and attentive to my spouse. 6. I will be a better role-model for my children. 7. I will bring joy to my parents. 8. I will be more charitable. 9. I’ll try not to be selfish and self-centered. 10. I will work hard to curb my anger and will restrain myself from screaming and yelling.
Another aspect that makes our new year’s resolution different than the secular resolutions is our focus on the Afterlife. As the Mishna states in the Pirkei Avos in the fourth chapter, “Olam hazeh domeh l’prozdor lifnei olam haba – This world is but a hallway leading to the Afterlife.” The striking feature of a hallway is that its function is wholly preparatory. It is not an end in itself, but only a vehicle to get the goal. So too, this world, when viewed through the Torah’s lenses, is primarily not for itself. Rather, it is to earn a wonderful portion in olam haba.
Thus, rather than putting a premium on enjoying life, taking trips, or even the emphasis on jobs, money, and getting out of debt, we put more weight on commitments such as: 1. Praying more meaningfully. 2. Studying more Torah. 3. Visiting the sick. 4. Comforting the bereaved. 5. Helping the widow and the orphan. 6. Burying the indigent. 7. Sanctifying Hashem’s name. 8. Correcting our wrongs. 9. Teaching and influencing others. 10. Being passionate about our Jewish rituals.
When we study the difference between our resolutions and the secular variety, we get a better understanding of what we say during Havdala at the start of every week, “Thank you, Hashem, for differentiating us from the other nations.” In the merit of our striving to constantly improve ourselves, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes Rabbi Weiss’ articles. To receive a weekly cassette tape or CD directly from Rabbi Weiss, please send a check to Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, P.O. Box 140726, Staten Island, NY 10314 or contact him at RMMWSI@aol.com.
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