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    New Year’s Resolutions

    The Gemora teaches us, “Im ein daas, havdala minayin – Without knowledge, how does one differentiate?”  This is the reason why on Motzoi Shabbos we say the havdala the insertion of Atah chonantonu within the blessing of Atah chonein, the brocha where we beseech Hashem for knowledge.  So, we see that only with proper understanding can one see differences in the world.  Among the distinctions mentioned in Atah chonantonu, as well as one of the separations that we discuss in the short and beautiful havdala service after Shabbos is the statement, “Hamavdil bein Yisroel l’amim,” that Hashem differentiates between Klal Yisroel and the gentiles.

    One of the ways we can perceive the differences between the values of a Torah Jew and the average non-Jew is by contrasting the Top Ten New Year’s resolutions touted for the secular calendar and the commitments a Jew makes before Rosh HaShannah.  The three top resolutions in America are: Number One, lose weight; Number Two, getting organized; and Number Three, spend less.  Now, let’s ponder what would be our top three resolutions.  We would have to suggest that the first commitment would concern strengthening our Yiras Shomaiyim, our fear of Heaven, for that is what a Jew’s life is all about.  As Moshe Rabeinu beseeched, “Mah Hashem Elokecha shoel mai’imoch, ki im l’yirah – What does Hashem ask from you but that you should fear him and be more aware of him (cf. Rav Miller’s many tapes that the root of yirah means to see.), or the lifelong objective of B’chol drachecha da’eihu – In all of your ways you should acknowledge Him, and Es Hashem  Elokecha tira – That you should fear Hashem.”  Namely, that the thought of Hashem should influence your decision making processes.

    Our second resolution would undoubtedly be to spend more time learning Torah for this too is the very purpose of our existence.  Like it says in Pirkei Avos, “Ki l’kach notzorta,” it is for the study of Torah that you were created.  Similarly, we are taught in Sanhedrin, “T’chilas dino shel adom eino ela b’divrei Torah – when we go for our final accounting before Hashem we will first be judged concerning the amount of time that we spent studying Hashem’s Torah.  The third resolution would definitely revolve around improving our relationships with our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends, and with humanity in general.

    What a difference between our kabolos/commitments compared with losing weight, getting organized, and spending less.  Now, to be sure, losing weight is important.  Obesity is a huge American problem that is responsible for the sicknesses and deaths of untold thousands of Americans every year.  And, indeed it is a Torah directive of v’nishmartem meod es  nafshoseichem, to diligently safeguard one’s life.  But, it is a far cry from the core and purpose of our existence.  Getting organized is also important in a Torah Jew’s life.  Rav Miller writes that the first nights of Pesach, the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish people, are celebrated by the seder.  The word sedar literally means organized, for the grand Pesach meal has a specific order: kadeish, ur’chatz, karpas, yachatz, etc.  So too, it is proper for one to lead an organized life with a daily seder starting with modeh ani and concluding with birchas hamapil.  But somehow I think the secular idea of getting organized has more to do with cleaning out the closets and throwing away some of the clutter.  The third secular commitment of spending less and saving more is admirable for if there is not enough money in the home, the Talmud teaches us that marital friction is quick to follow.  But, once again, the emphasis on focusing on money as a number three priority is an American way of thinking.  

    Let’s look at the next three most popular American resolutions.  Here is where we see that the gap widens considerably.  Number Four of the Top Ten is to enjoy life more.  Number Five is to stay fit and Number Six is to learn something new, like a new language.  If we would look at our next three, I would suggest that Number Four is to find ways to be more charitable, to give more tzedaka, and to help more people.  Number Five would be to daven better, to learn the meaning of our prayers and to be more sincere and devout in our discussions with Hashem.  And Number Six would probably revolve around mourning over the loss of the Temple and increasing our desire to bring Moshiach.

    It’s always important to remember how different we are, and to thank Hashem that He allowed us the privilege to be part of this Holy Nation, ashrecha Yisroel, fortunate are you Yisroel, mi k’amcha Yisroel, who is like you O! Israel, goy echad b’oretz, a nation unique in the land.  Once again, enjoying life is also a Torah objective.  To have simchas hachayim , happiness with life, is of the utmost necessity in being a true eved Hashem, as it says, “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha – Serve Hashem with joy.”  Furthermore, it is certain that Hashem wants us to be happy for this is the reason He created pistachio nuts, and lamb chops, pineapples and chocolate, sunlight and roses, a gentle breeze and a spouse’s tender voice.  But this is tempered by a Jew’s awareness that all of this is temporal, and the ultimate focus is on preparing with mitzvas and maasim tovim, commandments and good deeds for the eternal existence of the Afterlife.

    Staying fit is also a component of health and as mentioned, a Torah command.  But we have our priorities and we will spend forty-five precious minutes at the Daf Yomi instead of pumping iron at the gym although we still must find some time to exercise as well.  We too put a premium on learning something new but it’s not by purchasing the Rosetta stone course to learn French or Chinese.  Rather, it’s to make a mussar sedar in Mesilas Yeshorim, to tackle a masechet or learn some Mishna Yomi (718-906-6471)  

    May it be the will of Hashem that we always make new resolutions (there is nothing wrong with making them now) and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.