January 2023

Friends,

I didn’t make any resolutions this year. Resolutions are an okay idea. But, most people commit to resolutions with beautiful intentions to get healthier, save money, and spend more time with family and friends. However, most people don’t keep their resolutions. I have been among them. I recall the resolution I made in 2020. It was to lose 20 pounds in a year. “20 in 20″ was my mantra. The year came and went. I think I did lose a pound or two. However, I gained it back and added a few by the end of the year. I started out unhappy about my weight, how my clothes fit, how I looked in the mirror, and how I felt, and I ended the year even more disappointed. I had gained another ten pounds! I felt heavy and defeated. Making the resolution didn’t help the way I had hoped. So, why didn’t my New Year’s resolution work?

The Mishna teaches that four days serve as a New Year. These are the first of Nisan, the New Year for kings and festivals; the first of Elul is the New Year for animal tithes; the first of Tishrei is the New Year for counting years (to determine the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee); and, the first of Shevat is the New Year for trees. Add our secular New Year, and now we have five observances. Each has its own theme. Each is an example of the ways we interact with the world. The New Year for kings draws attention to standards between peoples and nations. The New Year for animal tithes and trees connects us to the rhythms of nature. Rosh Chodesh, the observance of a new lunar month, does this also. The New Year for years helps us remember that these rhythms of nature continually renew us. In our tradition, our multiple New Year observances remind us that renewal and the opportunities to change are always with us.

A year after my resolution to lose weight, I visited my APRN as I do every year. Even more disappointing, my cholesterol was elevated. This was not a surprise. I love dairy products, and my cholesterol had been heading in the wrong direction for a while. She suggested medication. I pushed back. I asked for another chance to get my cholesterol down on my own. She agreed, but I was nervous. This seemed too similar to my resolution a year earlier. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about my high cholesterol. But the news affected me. My appointment was around my birthday. As each year goes by, in my mind, I am one year closer to my father’s age when he died. He died at age 54. I thought about how much he missed and how much I missed him. None of us really get to choose the length of our life. However, there are things I can do that will certainly shorten it. Not taking care of my health is one of them. I was also thinking about Polly, Michael, Aaron, Nava, and Ilan. I want as much time as possible with them. The trauma of my cholesterol test had tied my eating habits to something else important to me –  time with my family.

I also thought about my failed “20 in 20” resolution. I didn’t want to do that again. So I decided to take a different approach, informed by Jewish renewal processes. Nothing radical, just a little at a time, every day; buying a little less, eating a little less, especially cheese – just a little. A little extravagance was okay, but just once in a while. To be honest, Covid helped too. After I had Covid this summer, I lost my appetite completely. Five months later, my appetite has returned, but I’m still on track to lose a few more pounds. I finally feel a measure of success, losing 30 pounds, and my cholesterol is back in the good range.

Our multiple Jewish New Years traditions remind us that big things can be achieved in small, intentional steps. So I’m not making a resolution this year. Instead, I am thinking small and doing little things day by day.

Happy New Year,
Rabbi Marc