A New Year filled with the promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. It’s also a time when many people take an opportunity to reflect inward and recommit to improving their circumstances both personally and communally.
In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, he shared some life-changing principles based on the notion that Judaism suggests how we invest our time. According to Rabbi Sacks, z”l, these are offered in the hope that they may help us reflect on the year that has passed and on the one that is to come. Below are just a few of the principles that we might want to consider as a new year is upon us. As I was reading the article, considering the challenges of 2021, and looking forward to 2022, the values below resonated with me, and I believe they make a difference for our community. I am pleased to share some of his wisdom that I could not have stated as eloquently as he did.
“Give thanks. Praying, we give thanks to God for all we have, and for life itself. This may sound simple, but it is life-transforming. It makes us notice what otherwise we would merely take for granted. It helps us see that we are surrounded by blessings. We are here, we are free, we have family, we have friends, we have opportunities our parents did not have and our grandparents could not even imagine. Yes, we have problems, fears, pains; but they can wait until we have finished giving thanks; and once we have given thanks, our problems seem a little smaller and we feel a little stronger. There is medical evidence that people who have an attitude of gratitude live longer and develop stronger immunities to illness. Be that as it may, the psychological evidence is incontrovertible: giving thanks brings happiness even in hard times.
Forgive. Emotional energy is too precious to waste on negative emotions. Resentment, grievance and hate have no part in the inner life of a Jew. The Torah teaches, ‘Don’t hate your brother (or sister) in your heart.’ Don’t take vengeance. Don’t bear a grudge. Those who forgive travel more lightly through life, freed of the burden of feelings that do no one any good.
Don’t talk lashon hara. The Talmudic Sages define lashon hara, ‘evil speech’, as saying negative things about other people even if they are true. They were harsh about it, regarding it as one of the worst interpersonal sins. Those who speak badly about others poison the atmosphere in families and communities. They undermine relationships and do great harm. See the good in people – and if you see the bad, be silent. No one whose respect matters respects those who speak badly of others.
Volunteer. Give of your time to others. There is no greater cure for depression than to bring happiness into the lives of others. Visit the sick. Invite someone lonely to your Shabbat or Yom Tov meal. Share your skills with someone who needs to acquire them. Join one of the many outstanding organizations in our community. Hebrew has a beautiful word for such acts: ‘chessed,’ meaning love-as-deed, love-as-kindness. The great Jewish psychotherapist Viktor Frankl used to say, ‘The door to happiness opens outward,’ meaning that feeling low often comes from feeling alone. Bring the gift of your presence to someone else, and you will no longer feel alone.
Create moments of joy. It can be as simple as a walk on a spring day, or watching an internet video of an old song that brings back warm memories, or paying someone an unanticipated compliment, or giving someone a spur-of-the-moment gift. There is a place in Judaism for happiness, but the key positive emotion in the Torah and the Book of Psalms is simcha, ‘joy.’ Happiness often depends on external circumstances but you can experience joy even in tough times. Joy liberates the spirit and breaks the hold of sadness. Let yourself, in Wordsworth’s words, be ‘surprised by joy.’ Joy means opening your soul to the radiance of life, refusing to let age or time dull your sense of wonder.
Love. Judaism was the world’s first and greatest religion of love. Love God with all your heart, soul and might. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the stranger, for you were once strangers. Love is the alchemy that turns life from base metal to gold; that etches our days with the radiance of the Divine presence. True happiness, whether in marriage or parenthood, friendship or career, is always the product of love. To live you have to learn to love.
Do any of these things and slowly, gradually, you may begin to notice a change in your life. You will be less pressured, less anxious, less hurried and harried. You will find you have time for the things that are important but not urgent, which are what you most neglect now. The result will be more satisfaction, fulfilment, joy. You will feel yourself blessed.”
As a community, we are so blessed and we have so much for which to be thankful. I hope you and your families have a beautiful 2022 – a year filled with good health and abundant joy!