In the secular world it is very common to make “new year’s resolutions”. People undertake to lose weight, get into shape and pay off credit cards. They resolve to watch less television, wash their car once a week and fix the backyard fence which has been broken for 8 years! While these resolutions sound nice and productive, most of them don’t last too long and people fall back into their daily routine – and old habits – very quickly.
What I want you to do, however, is completely different. As Rosh Ha’Shanah approaches, I want you to make Jewish New Year resolutions – not ones connected to diet, exercise or broken fences. I don’t want you to cut down on your kugel intake or walk to Shul instead of drive. That is very nice but not what I am about to suggest. Rather, my list contains just 2 things that will bring incredible “nachas” to our King and Father in heaven and will change you forever, and not just for a few weeks. I will list the first one below and the second one in next week’s article.
Number one is to light your Jewish soul on fire! The past few years has seen a growth in “frumkeit” in our community but, unfortunately, that growth has little do to with our Jewish neshama. Many new “chumras” have been added to Pesach (does anyone besides me eat gebrokts anymore??), girl’s skirts keep getting longer and the knitted kippa is becoming treif. Sorry, but none of these things impress me. The time has come for us to concentrate more on our soul than our body and understand that focusing on food, hats and Shabbos light switches is counter-productive to our youth, our nation and even ourselves.
Jews are not robots nor are we wind-up toys that walk straight, even if it means running into a wall. We are great men and women who were given a spark from Heaven. Consider this: According to the latest statistics, there are 7.2 BILLION people in the world, of which just 13 MILLION of them have a Jewish neshama. That makes us less than .002% of the entire world! Only we have this spark – called the Jewish soul… nobody else has it! With that soul we need to serve our King, infuse our lives with holiness and light up the entire world. Do you think we can do that by simply not using peanut oil on Pesach (even though it was good enough for our parent’s generation) or by not going to Tashlich on Rosh Ha’Shanah afternoon because we may socialize (even though we all grew up doing it, and seemed to turn out ok)??
I have said and written a thousand times that keeping Halacha is very important but it’s the added “chumras” and restrictions that make me crazy. Things have gotten so complicated that the average Yossi doesn’t know the difference between the Halacha and the stringency. It has all become mashed together to the point where if you eat Haagen Dasz ice cream with just an OU, people look at you as if you ate a ham sandwich. Many years ago, as a teenager growing up in Kew Gardens Hills, I had a wonderful Rabbi who inspired me greatly. His name is Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, may he live in good health until 120. He said an amazing thing about “chumras” which I engraved on my heart and made it part of my life. He said that “chumras” are up to the individual. If they make you feel better about your connection to Hashem and bring happiness into your life then do them. However, if they add pressure and stress to your life and bring anger, discomfort and strife into your home then avoid them at all costs!! Keep the Halacha – yes, of course… but if these “chumras” make you feel that Yiddishkeit is strangling you and chaining you down, run away from them. Rabbi Schonfeld said these words from the pulpit of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills back in 1975 and I remember them like they were said yesterday. I adopted that policy into my life and, Baruch Hashem, raised a family of six children who are all frum and loving every minute of it!
The concept I wrote above – being just .002% of the world population who was blessed with a Jewish neshama – is the one thing where I would take on every “chumra” imaginable. We need to be machmir with our soul… not with our milk. The question is – how do we do it? It’s easy to be strict when it comes to building the Sukkah (please no pre-fab Sukkas) but how do we do it when it comes to strengthening our neshama?
The answer is 3 things: Simcha, Emunah and Kedusha. Since this is a newspaper article and not a 500 page sefer, allow me to explain each one in just a few words.
Simcha: You need to bring joy in your life and into your home. Your Shabbos table should be fun to sit at, your Shul should be filled with singing and dancing and your Jewish “chores” should be undertaken with a smile on your face – even as you pay ridiculously high prices for your High Holiday seats. Do it B’Simcha!!
Emunah: Truly believe in Hashem and everything He does. Understand a major concept taught to us by the Nesivos Shalom – that you have a specific mission and destiny in this world and everything in your life, whether its poverty, wealth, sickness or health was given to you in order to allow you to fulfill that destiny. In other words; Hashem wants you to have these specific things so be happy about what you have and use them all to get the job done!
Kedusha: There isn’t a nation or religion in the world where the people received a commandment “to be holy”… just the Jews. Yes, every religion has certain holy men and women but a commandment for everyone to be holy??? Just the Jews! Therefore, be “machmir” with this concept. Be holy in your work, your speech, your chat with your neighbor, your social life and when surfing the internet. Be Kadosh all the time, in all situations and in every place you are.
Friends, that is my suggestion for your Jewish New Year’s resolution #1. Work on your Jewish soul – polish it and perfect it. Light it on fire and bring an “Aish Kodesh” into your life. Be very “machmir” with your soul by keeping away from sadness and depression. Make Simcha as much a part of your daily life as eating and just like you check every food product for the proper Rabbinical supervision, make sure your happiness and joy is kosher as well. Believe in Hashem, not like Superman but as the greatest force in the world who wants you to succeed and make sure you sanctify His great and holy Name. Finally, infuse your life with Kedusha in everything you do. You are the son/daughter of the King!! Dress accordingly, speak accordingly and act accordingly. What an honor to be a Jew!