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the pulpit

A resolution revolution: The Jewish way

Use our sacred days to help you keep the promises and vows that you made to yourself and others.

Credit: Lana Sweet/Shutterstock.
Credit: Lana Sweet/Shutterstock.
Rabbi Sherre Hirsch
Rabbi Sherre Hirsch

According to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February. According to OnePoll, it takes the average person 32 days or less to break their resolution.

Spoiler alert: This custom of “New Year’s resolutions” to lose weight, exercise more, save money or eat better is highly likely to fail. You are not at fault. The truth is that keeping our resolutions, changing our behavior and creating new habits is really hard. We need support, progress trackers, realistic goals and constant reminders.

What is curious is that long before New Year’s Day was even established, Jewish tradition already knew this truth about humanity. Jewish tradition already understood that to keep our vows, our promises and resolutions to do better and to be better required much more than an annual promise. Thus, unlike the Gregorian calendar, which marks only one new year, we benchmark four new years and Rosh Chodesh, the new month for 12 months in order to ensure that we make progress.

The question now becomes: Are we using these built-in benchmarks from our tradition to help us stay on track?

I am confident that Jews around the world use Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, which usually falls at the beginning of September if they are early and at the end of September if they are late, as regular markers. But I would argue that we have missed the opportunity to use these other days to reset our priorities.

This year on New Year’s Day, instead of making a resolution, make a Jewish plan. Create a Jewish calendar; mark the months and each new year. Determine how on each of those days you will track your progress, assess how far you have come and motivate yourself to go forth. Determine how you will celebrate your small wins, course correct your missteps and remind yourself to continue the journey. This year, use the Jewish calendar to help you maintain your rituals and your routine. Use our sacred days to help you keep the promises and vows that you made to yourself and others.

Perhaps then you will come to Rosh Hashanah, nine months from now, on your way to change—deeply transformed and ready for God to celebrate you anew.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch is the chief innovation officer of American Jewish University.

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