By Laura Seymour
It is almost New Year’s Eve and people will be celebrating with a great deal of fanfare, partying and, likely as not, a touch of bubbly. The New Year also asks us to make resolutions to become better people. In the immediate aftermath of the secular New Year, we resolve to do a variety of things: Lose weight, be less critical, spend more time with our children, and so on.
Interestingly enough, as Jews, we already observed one New Year — Rosh Hashanah — which asks different things from us versus Jan. 1. But one question looms: How can we bring Judaism into the secular New Year?
To answer this, I’d like to share this following well-known story. Both the story and questions that follow are courtesy of the Jewish Child Care Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.
Once there was a rabbi, Rabbi Zusya, who was very learned and a good teacher. The rabbi performed many mitzvot and worked hard to be a good person. But he wasn’t satisfied with his efforts or accomplishments. He knew that, before he could enter heaven, he would be having a conversation with God about his life.
But his life didn’t seem to amount to much, at least from his perspective. He could imagine God asking him: “Why weren’t you more like Abraham? Why weren’t you more like Moses? Why weren’t you more like Solomon or David or maybe even Leah or Deborah?” Rabbi Zusya was so nervous and scared. Then God appeared before him and asked, “Why weren’t you more like Zusya?”
- Why do you think Zusya was worried about not being more like his ancestors? What was it about his ancestors that he wanted to emulate?
- Do you think it’s a good thing to want to follow in the footsteps of others?
- What do you think God meant by the question, “Why weren’t you more like Zusya?” Wasn’t he Zusya?
- What happens when you aren’t being yourself?
- How can we be our best selves? What might that require?
As Jews, the question is less about weight loss, smoking cessation or anything else superficial. Rather, the question focuses on how we can be our best selves; what changes we want to make and can realistically make, and the steps necessary to make those changes. So this year, ask yourself what will be necessary to ensure you’re the best YOU that you can be.
Now, if you want to make those surface changes such as losing 20 pounds (and the J is a great place to stick to that resolution), do so. But remember, you can commit yourself to more in 2012.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.