Enough With the Resolutions

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp August 27, 2018
 

 

Shot of an adorable little boy and his father getting dressed in matching suits

Sometimes we wait for life to happen to us, mistakenly realizing it already has.

I had this moment recently. I say a daily prayer for my children, asking G-d to grant my kids everything that Jewish parents ask for: success, health, suitable marriage partner in the right time and that they should be good Jews.

Thank G-d my kids are healthy, and I think they are very successful (they are all under the age of 10).  But suffice to say that praying for a successful life for my children has a tendency to seem a little like an investment in their future instead of their present.  Sure, my wife reminds me, that one day I’ll be walking my daughters down the aisle and crying like a baby, but it still seems far away.

In the text of the prayer, there is a petition that G-d make my children love and know a lot of Torah.  Ok great—so that will happen one day in the future too, right?  I fondly think of my kids, my seven-year-old son in particular, watching hours of educational videos about how to remodel a house, play video games and whatever else he watches.

Then it hit me; maybe someday won’t happen unless I do something now.  He’s not going to become a Torah scholar unless I start the process.  Or at least do something to hasten the fulfillment of the prayer.

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t.  In fact, the great first chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Kook, teaches that the most effective way to pray is to pray sincerely and then start doing things that would actualize the prayer.  So sure, pray, but then do something.  Oftentimes we think I should either do something or sit back and pray.

What is the point of prayer, anyway?  Many modern people might consider prayer old fashioned. These folks surmise that in the old days, the unschooled person perhaps saw prayer like an amulet, a way to charm G-d.  We butter Him up with praises, and then ask for a Bentley when we know we don’t deserve it.  Surely this is preposterous—and perhaps our ancestors thought so as well.

Now that we modern people understand a bit more about how the world works, we know there is such a thing as cause and effect, medicine, the realty of the stock market, etc.  and perhaps we figure that we don’t need prayer. If I am going to go out and work for it anyway, why pray? I can just make it happen.

Whereas in the past, we surmise that people didn’t know enough and had to rely on G-d out of a poverty of information, we may feel as if we can rely on ourselves based on our overabundance of information.  But this also is a fallacy.

Can we truly get anything we want?  Perhaps—but what if what we are looking for is wrong, or harmful for us?  Can or should we change every element of our fate? How do we know what’s really best for us? Maybe the job we are so sure we want will ultimately make us miserable, or that person we wish we could date would in fact be all wrong for us. With so many factors that could change our lives we really do find ourselves without much of a clue of what would be best for us.

As such, when we make resolutions, or even goals, how can we know what to ask for?

The concept of prayer is to change yourself THROUGH THE MEDIUM of prayer. We want to fulfill G-d’s will, which is to use all of our personality and our talents for the good. But we have to do the work to become who we want to accomplish, and be the element of change we are looking for in the world.

That being said, it’s G-d’s world. No matter what our opinions might be, He set our lives and decisions on a particular course and it’s better to make peace with it and learn how to grow from where we are instead of longing to be something we are not.

That’s the challenge for the new year and new day; don’t make resolutions. Take into account what you have now, who you are now, and where you think you’d like to go. Stop. Pray. Ask G-d to help. And make small but meaningful steps in that direction. Perhaps you’ll wind up at your original destination or become enlightened to the true path you are on.

Ultimately, we have to enjoy the journey and work hard to make our prayers a reality.

So, the end of the story? I came home and asked my son if he wanted to learn Torah. And for the first time I felt my prayers were being answered.

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