I grew up in South Africa where the school year ended in December and the new academic year began in January. It was also mid-summer over the new year period because South Africa is in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are the reverse of here in the US. So I always liked the end of the calendar year and the beginning of a new one. I would go for a long walk along the beach, reflecting on the year that went by and I would make new year’s resolutions and try to keep them.
That was in a different life. Before I knew about what Judaism teaches what our purpose in the world is. Before I learned that we are here to grow in this world, grow closer to Hashem by improving ourselves in all areas of our lives and to learn G-d’s Torah and do His mitzvot.
Now, I reflect on the previous year and upcoming year Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur time. I take on new kabbalahs (resolutions) and I try to keep them.
So, is there anything Jewish we can do when January 1st comes around?
In a theme I’ve written about often, I learn from my life experiences before I became Torah observant. For example, I have applied many lessons to my current life from my years as a rugby player.
This year is not only the beginning of a new year, but it’s also the beginning of a new decade. Let’s use this once every ten-year occurrence to make one new resolution. For me, there are also two other BIG beginnings happening right now.
The first is that on the second day of Chanukah, my wife and I became grandparents for the first time. Our daughter and son-in-law had a baby girl and for the next six days, I had the opportunity to give praise and thanks to Hashem every day during Hallel at Shacharit for the incredible gift we received.
The second is that, as I write this, I am preparing to leave to fly to New York with my family to attend the 13th Siyum haShas at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Baruch Hashem, I have been a part of Rabbi Doni Deutsch’s Daf Yomi shiur for the last 15 years and I will be completing the cycle of learning all 2,711 pages of the Talmud over 7 1/2 years for the second time.
What do I do with all the incredible emotions I have been feeling this past week and will experience tomorrow afternoon along with over 90,000 other Jews?
What does anyone of us do when an incredibly good or, lo aleinu, bad event happens?
The answer is that it presents us with an enormous opportunity to grow as a person in our interpersonal relationships and in our relationship with G-d.
The key is to choose something small and to start it immediately after the event.
After the birth of our granddaughter, I decided to learn 15 more minutes of daf yomi as soon as I woke up in the morning. Instead of checking my email or doing any other work, I would first pick up a Gemara. Truth is, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. Now I’m channeling my emotions into doing something good. And I’ll forever connect my extra learning to our granddaughter.
After the terrible massacre in HarNof a few years ago, I decided not to take my cellphone into shul again. If we only revel or wallow in the emotional high or low for a few days, we lose the chance to seize these opportunities to grow.
And if we don’t do something new, what will ever inspire us to become better people? What new thing will I do after the siyum tomorrow? I haven’t decided yet. But I’ll do something.
And that is another benefit of doing this every time we are inspired. It makes each of the major events in our lives more meaningful.
Isn’t that what we want in our lives? A life of meaning and purpose?
Happy 2020! Make it a great decade!