By Adam Grobman
While New Year’s Eve celebrations will be marked by smaller gatherings this year, one thing will remain the same: millions of people will promise to improve themselves, shake off bad habits, and set goals to achieve throughout the year.
“Goals need to be realistic, achievable, and something that you think will help you in the long run,” says Denise Haas, a licensed clinical social worker who works at Jewish Family Service as an adoption permanency coordinator. “It’s also important to have support from friends and family.”
While the general population usually reserves New Year’s resolutions for January, members of the Jewish community often thins about making improvements during our own New Year: Rosh Hashanah.
“There’s a big role to play in our tradition for New Year’s resolutions,” says Rabbi Carl Choper of Temple Beth Shalom in Mechanicsburg. “Teshuvah, or ‘returning’, is what Rosh Hashanah is all about.”
Teshuvah, the concept of returning to one’s intention, is part of the Musar process that Rabbi Choper uses when working with Jewish prisoners in our area. Musar is a self-improvement movement within Judaism that focuses on amplifying the middot, or values, that can be found within all people.
“When we express ourselves through the middot, we are giving G-d an opportunity to shine through us into the world,” Rabbi Choper says.
He says that by identifying the middot that we personally need to work on, we are “opening up the lens to make the light more whole.” The practice cycle is tied to the solar year – with 13 middot (one per week) being divisible by 52 (the weeks of a year), the practice completes four cycles each year.
Though Jews tend to think about New Year’s resolutions at High Holidays, there is plenty of opportunity to rethink, refine, and refocus in January, too.
“The beauty of the idea of teshuvah is that we can always return,” says Rabbi Ariana Capptauber of Beth El Temple Harrisburg. “Judaism understands that we are not going to be perfect all the time – but there’s always the embrace of people trying to do better.”
Rabbi Capptauber notes that while Judaism takes vow-making seriously (there are laws about it in the Torah), it is never too late to improve upon commitments made during Rosh Hashanah and that synagogues are places that should be supportive of that process. “I hope that the synagogue is somewhere that people come to be their best self.”
Denise agrees that resolutions should be an ongoing process. “You should think about them throughout the year,” she says. “They should be an ongoing hourly, daily, yearly thing as needed.”
With that in mind, Denise cautions against being too hard on yourself – especially this year. “Many people put a lot of pressure on themselves for a new year and new things – but really we just want self-care,” she says.
As we all experienced this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown, some things are outside of individual control. Denise says that we should be willing to adjust, adapt, remain calm, and be flexible.
“It’s not about being perfect,” she says. “You need to be understanding, give yourself time and space, and know that you have a full twelve months and you’re going to have your good days and bad days.”
Denise says that her personal resolutions are to continue to take care of her physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as being the best mom that she can be. “If I have a bad day or week, there’s always tomorrow,” she says.
Rabbi Choper says that he thinks about resolutions three times each year – at Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s, and his birthday. He hopes that his resolutions will have impact on others, too.
“I hope to find more balance in my own life, so I can help to contribute more balance beyond myself,” he says.
And Rabbi Capptauber aims to keep generosity front-of-mind at all times of the year. “I want to be mindful about having a strong tzedakah practice throughout the entire year and have an open hand when asked,” she says, adding that we are always engaged in teshuvah.
“It’s meant to be a process we engage in throughout the year,” she says. “Judaism has a lot of understanding of human error, forgiveness, and the welcoming of return to intention.”