Most evidence suggests that New Years’ resolutions remain just that: resolutions rather than accomplishments. Part of the reason, I think, is that we aim too high. We ask ourselves to do more than is possible.
We are like the man who has never worked out, but decides he need to start running ten miles a day.
A Righteous Man’s Experience
To counter this tendency, I think we can take some inspiration from a favorite Jewish anecdote. It is attributed to a nineteenth century Rabbi named Israel Salentar, who introduced the study of modern ethics into the curriculum of Jewish schools across Eastern Europe.
“When I was young,” he said, “I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world did not change. So I tried to change my town, but my town did not change. Then I turned to my family, but my family did not change. Then I realized: in order to change the world, first I must change myself: and I am still trying.” So are we all.
By Evan Moffic,
A Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year to all my readers and friends!
You Spend It On Other People.
Pondering these questions, I’ve seen a pattern emerge: The discoveries of positive psychology point to the qualities that Jewish wisdom associates with a righteous person. In other words, the qualites that make for righteousness also make for happiness. What are they?
1. Gratitude: When we feel grateful for what we have and who we are, we feel greater satisfaction with our lives. We are more open to engaging experiences and maintaining the relationships we enjoy, since we are grateful for them. We are less envious of others because we find satisfaction in what we have.
2. Generosity: For a couple of years, a recurring commercial for a financial company proclaimed the motto, “It’s my money, and I need it now!” This attitude makes for profound unhappiness.
Consider this question: Do you ever get more exciting about giving rather than receiving a present? It’s about the relationship. Giving deepens relationships in a way that makes us happier in the long run.
Point in fact: As a rabbi I’ve noticed that our Bar and Bat Mitzvah students (13 years old) derive enormous satisfaction from the community service we ask them to do. While getting presents is great, helping others creates a long-lasting satisfaction.
3. Prayer: Prayer is not about asking for things. We pray to be inspired. We pray to remind ourselves to live with purpose. Prayer is like opening windshapes on a sunny day. We see the world in a different light.
4. Community: In the English language, life is a singular noun. The plural form is “lives.” Yet, in Hebrew, Chaim means both life (singular) and lives (plural). In fact, Hebrew has no word that simply means “life” in the singular.
That grammatical feature illustrates a deeper truth. Life is best lived in the plural. The amount of happiness we find on the journey of life depends more on our fellow travels than our individual destination.
5. Hope: Life is not easy. Disappointments and difficulties confront us all. We could meet such challenges with stoicism. We could drown them out with constant stimulation or mindless pleasure. Or we can take a third way.
The third way is one of hope. Hope combines vision with action. It allows to imagine a world different than our own. Even if we love where we are now, vision and possibility add to our to satisfaction and help find a way to pass on a better world to the next generation.
By Evan Moffic,
Something magical happens in our home on Friday night. The bustle of the week stops. The noise of dinner time fades away. The iPad powers down (at least for a while).
What changes everything, however, is the moment we put our hands on our children and say a blessing over them. The blessing is short, personal, and changes every week. Its impact, however, is almost always the same: a smile, a hug, and a relaxed look of joy.
It’s not the words themselves that are magical. It’s words together with the mood and the people.
What Prayer Does
The old saying goes “A family that prays together stays together.” While experience and reflection make that statement seem simplistic for me, the truth is that prayer creates a unique feeling of kinship and joy.
It helps children feel connected and secure, and it reminds adults that there is more to life than constant activity. Prayer puts life in perspective.
Pray for Ourselves
Some might object that the purpose of prayer is not to make us feel better. It is to speak to God. This view of prayer is far too limiting.
In fact, the Hebrew word li-hit-palel means “to pray,” and it falls into the category of what linguists called “reflexive verbs.” That means that the direct object of the verb “to pray” is ourselves. When we pray, we are shaping ourselves.
In this time of holiday celebration, let us remember the power of prayer. It’s not just something we do in a church or synagogue. It’s something we can do in our homes, with our family and friends, and with all those we love.
By Evan Moffic,
Today we reach the last day of the ancient Mayan calendar. This fact has prompted to predict the end of the world.
These types of predictions are nothing new to people of faith. While we may not agree with them, we can certainly make use of them.
They remind us to ask ourselves the question: If we knew we would not be here tomorrow, how would we live today?
Be a Blessing
The answer I often turn to is captured in the words traditionally said in Judaism after a loved one dies. Zichrono l’vracha, “May his memory be a blessing.”
These words convey the purpose of a well-lived life. That those who come after you, those who remember you, look to your life as a blessing, a benediction, and an inspiration.
Being a blessing means that you have touched the lives of those you knew, and that you have helped them to do the same for others.
To be a blessing is not something we should contemplate only if the end of the world is approaching. It is not something we should think of only when a loved ones. Rather, our true task is to be a blessing, today and every day.
By Evan Moffic,
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