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Parshas VaEira - New Year's Resolutions        26 Teves 5782

12/30/2021 12:28:04 PM


Parshas VaEra – New Year’s Resolutions

Are New Year’s resolutions an acceptable practice in Judaism? Do Jews, or for that matter does Halacha recognize this sort of behavior? One can argue both sides: on the one hand it helps us be better people while on the other hand doing so could come from a forbidden, ritual practice. History does not have a definitive answer on this matter, but one of the earliest known practices of making such resolutions dates back about 4000 years ago to the ancient Babylonians who are believed to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began in mid-March, not January, timed to coincide with spring crop planting. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of today’s customary New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to experience.

Based upon that description, we Jews would forbid New Year’s resolutions since the sources for doing so are idolatry. On the other hand, this entire practice of the Babylonians seems extremely familiar to something we do every year on the first of Tishrei, our Rosh Hashana or New Year. While we repent, we take on clear resolutions not to do certain things we were not supposed to do or… the opposite – to commit to doing things that we were supposed to do.

How effective are resolutions? Well, for the secular world, statistics have shown when it comes to resolutions, it is common knowledge that they are not often realized.  Many give up on their resolutions early into the new year; resolutions are typically viewed more as a tradition and less of something to actually commit to accomplishing. So, let’s take a deeper look: how early do people typically give up on their resolutions, if they do , in actuality, give up at all? 22% of resolutions fail after the first week, 40% of resolutions fail after a month, 50% of resolutions will fail after the first three months, while 60% of resolutions fail after six months. We hope that when it comes to Jewish resolutions impacting how our year is going to be the statistics are at least somewhat higher. But our “resolutions” are not always about Mitzvos and Aveiros; rather our typical resolutions focus on other forms of commitments - to be “better” at something we are already doing i.e., davening, watching our speech, concentrating on blessings, doing more chessed etc.  One common example is creating a road or a pathway to grow closer to God. The main key path to getting closer to Hashem is through the study of Torah. There has been a boom in the learning of Torah in the Jewish world. One outstanding example is Daf Yomi.

This Shabbos, January 1,2022 on the secular calendar, will be exactly two years since the Siyum HaShas (the completion of a 7 ½ year cycle of completing the Talmud’s 2711 pages by learning one folio a day). On that day, many of the attendees at the various venues of the Siyum, whether it was at MetLife stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, or at your local Shul, took on a commitment to join the incredible mass movement of learning the daf. Some people are still going strong while others have petered out along the way. Nevertheless, all have learned more than they would have if they had not started at all. It was a resolution of sorts to start on something new with a goal that they never thought they would ever have been able to do.

A resolution , a determination to make a firm decision to do or not to do something, usually is inspired by an event or the timing of something special or unique in a person’s life. The day of the completion of the last Daf Yomi cycle, was, without a doubt, one of those moments. To the day, now almost two full years into the new 7 ½ year Daf Yomi cycle, thousands are still going strong, their commitment and growth of daily learning of the Talmud changing their lives and the lives of their families and loved ones around them. Unfortunately, not everyone was successful in continuing. But I would like to share another golden opportunity that is within everyone’s reach, and I mean everyone. I started it myself and here is how I got into it.

Last Sunday, December 26th I texted someone out of the blue and said “Shalom Uvracha. How are you?”. He replied, “Shalom. BH I’m well. How are you? Are we starting Mishna tomorrow?” To be honest I had no idea what he was talking about, but I played along with him as if I knew. So I said “yes, I just wanted to know which Mesechta/tractate”. He said: “Starts with Brachos?” I said: “Yes, but you probably did Brachos already”. He said: “Ohhh. I was saying the universal ‘we’ in regard to Mishna Yomi”. I confirmed we’d start that day and asked for a time and then asked, “What Mishna is the world Mishna Yomi up to? Are you doing that?” He replied, “Apparently it started yesterday”. So, being only one day behind, we started learning via phone. I had heard of Mishna Yomi, but I never knew the breakdown and how the cycle runs. I researched and found out that Mishna Yomi is a daily Torah-study program in which participants learn two Mishnayos a day and complete all six orders of the Mishna in approximately five years and nine months.

Learning Mishnayos is not just something for kids. Years ago, my Rebbi, Rabbi Reznick told us that before one learns a tractate of Gemara, he needs to learn the Mishnayos of that tractate. Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz, in a beautiful introduction to Mishnayos Yomi, explained that the Mishna is the foundation of Torah She’B’Al Peh, the Oral Law, and is comparable to the Torah She’Bichsav, the written Torah. The Torah was written down by Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the most humble of all men. So too, the Mishna was written down by Reb Yehuda HaNasi, who was also the humblest of his generation. As an example, he would always quote an opposing view first before giving his own opinion. The same Mishanayos are learned by young and old each and every day. The beauty of this program is that it only requires about ten minutes a day. People could learn with a partner, parent and child, or even participate in a contest motivating two people against each other. It just started last Shabbos, so it is easy to catch up this past week and join the daily Mishna learning, joining the world-wide initiative. This would be a wonderful New Year’s resolution - even on a January 1st.

On a concluding note, there are many situations of tragedy and horror that occur within the Jewish world. We cannot know the answers; we cannot give reasons or explain what or why. One of the best therapies to deal with such trying, difficult events, past and especially current, is to occupy our minds in the depths of Torah. Let us use this opportunity to learn any daily study of Torah, Shmiras HaLashon, Laws of Shabbos, etc. as a therapeutic exercise in dealing with and handling life’s challenges.

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782