As we mark the entry into 2012, many people will have made resolutions for this New Year. Resolutions are as much a part of New Year as the dropping of the ball at Times Square, the countdown to midnight and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. On the US Government website, in a section explaining American holidays, it offers a list of popular New Year’s resolutions, with links to help people achieve their goals.
The problem is that alongside the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions, we also have our tradition of breaking New Year’s resolutions. According to a number of studies; despite high optimism when resolutions were made, less than 25% of people succeed in achieving the goals which they set for themselves. There are numerous suggestions for making the resolutions stick: be realistic, find support, persevere, and create a plan.
I have essentially given up on making New Year’s resolutions because I sit firmly in the 75% of people who year after year fail with the pledges which they make. I have resolved to go to the gym on a regular basis, which has ended up being a regular once every two months. I have resolved to eat more healthily; succeeding with the ‘more’, but not with the ‘healthily’. And alongside these two are a number of other failures.
So instead of looking to the secular world, I think we can look to our own Jewish tradition for inspiration with our New Year’s resolutions. Instead of beginning Rosh Hashanah with resolutions, our preparation for the Jewish New Year began with the reflections of the month of Elul. We recited additional prayers, we began the process of apologizing to people and we began to prepare ourselves for the New Year. And then we allowed ourselves a period of ten days, culminating in Yom Kippur, to continue this work. The resolution is not instantaneous; instead we have a period of forty days in which to begin the process of change for the forthcoming year.
The preparation we make for our Jewish New Year is reflective, introspective, and thoughtful. We resolve to treat others, ourselves, and our community with more care and understanding. We resolve to make the world around us a better place. We resolve to make vows, or resolutions, that we won’t have to cancel the next year. Yet, do we give the same careful thought and consideration to the days, and subsequently, the year that follows? With all the pressures of our modern world, how can we carry the resolutions of Rosh Hashanah into the year, which follows?
We can use the secular New Year to make a new series of resolutions, which we are unlikely to keep, or we can use it as a ruler by which to measure our strides forward, or sometimes steps backwards, from the resolutions we made on OUR New Year. We can reflect on the mistakes we have repeated, and we can celebrate the places in our lives in which we have been able to make real change. This secular New Year is really a way to ensure that our Jewish New Year retains its meaning and that the vows we made to ourselves, each other, and to God, don’t get lost in the resolution abyss. And it could be that if we really take full advantage of this New Year as a way to measure our progress, we might even have less to repent for come the next Jewish New Year.