Focus on Change

By Rabbi Eric Goldman

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Our community showed up this week. There was sweltering heat and cars at a standstill by Touhy and McCormick, but we still showed up. We came because we wanted to learn about something that affects us deeply, something that influences our families and our future. We came following the lead of our Rabbonim, urging and imploring us to join them because the time has come to refocus. We came in numbers never before seen at such an event for the Jewish Community in Chicago- over 3000 strong. We were enlightened and inspired, and we will not soon forget the power of the night. But now we must ask- what comes next?

I was talking to one of my talmidim a while ago who was going through a little bit of a rough time in life. Suddenly, after changing one aspect of his situation, everything was amazing. “B’H, I’m doing great” he would tell me. “This was exactly what I needed. I really feel like this is going to be a whole new beginning for me.” And on and on, gushing with enthusiasm and excitement. After a few weeks of similar unbridled optimism, his tone of voice became deflated just as suddenly as it had inflated. When I asked him how he is doing, his response was a very lethargic, “Eh, ups and downs.” I told him that I am relieved to finally be hearing some good news. The truth is, I have had that conversation dozens of times throughout my relatively short career. (Half of those times with myself!)

Change is a fickle creature. It tempts us and draws us in, convincing us that this time will be different and filling our hearts with a profound hope. And then it abandons us just as quickly as it came, leaving us with the inevitable feelings of dejection and despair. All too often, because of the same culprit- our emotions.

Emotions are not made to last. Imagining a life-changing event that turns around all our shortcomings is just not realistic. Inspiration and motivation are important, if not crucial aspects of our growth in serving Hashem. But it is not nearly enough. We must take the next step. We must put ourselves in a position where those emotions can become a reality. We must strive to internalize those feelings within ourselves in a way that changes the very person we are.

The sifrei Machshava teach us that the proper response to feeling inspired is to concretize the emotions by taking upon ourselves one real change. Something small, yet meaningful; something we can point to and say that tomorrow morning when I wake up and don’t feel those same elated emotions, there is still going to be that one thing that I know I am committed to. This is especially true in this time of the Yomim Noraim, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. With all the passion and zeal we will be feeling over the coming ten days, the only way we can give ourselves the best chance of those feelings having any lasting effect is to choose one thing, one small change, that we can implement in a practical way.

There are two conditions to these changes. Two aspects that will determine how effective and practical the change truly is. It must be measurable and it must be attainable. It is beautiful for someone to say that they will never speak lashon hara ever again. But how realistic is that (unfortunately)? Likewise, someone committing themselves to pour their hearts out in their tefilos is admirable. But again, how can that be measured? Instead, we can commit to davening from a siddur, something that we can measure if we accomplished that today or not. We can pledge to refrain from speaking lashon hara for a set 10 minutes every day, an amount of time we are likely to fulfill. Or we can compel ourselves to speak on a higher level by setting up a set time every day, even for just 5 minutes, to learn Shmiras Halashon or Chofetz Chaim.

This week, we were witness to something special. A night that was months in the making. We were enlightened and inspired. It would be wonderful if the entire community woke up the next day having full control over every pull towards their technological gadgets. Not a single phone could be seen in shul and every married couple gave each other their undivided attention. Devices would all be filtered, and everyone would go to sleep on time, having shut their phones off early in the evening. But we live in a realistic world. And in that world, change comes in excruciating increments. But when we make those changes, when we commit ourselves to taking those small steps forward, something magical happens. We feel different; we are elevated and transformed in a way that simply feeling inspired doesn’t accomplish.

And so we must now turn our focus inward. Each of us within our hearts, knowing and understanding what we must work on. We must choose that one thing. That one thing that we can point to and say that the feelings we experienced gathered together as a city are going to be made into something real. Something that makes each of us feel that we have changed, as individuals and as a community. For one person, it could be turning off their phone during shacharis every morning. For another, it could be installing a filter on their phone. For a family, it could be keeping their phones in a central location so that they can spend time with each other and work on strengthening their family bonds. And yet for others, it could be making the decision to switch to a flip phone.

Choose something. Make it measurable and make it attainable. It’s the only way our feelings can be made real. And it’s the only way the power of the event will impact our community and change our lives for years to come.

Kesiva V’Chasima Tova to everyone. Be’H, our efforts, individually and communally, will be a source of nachas to Hashem. And we will all be zoche to year of bracha and simcha.     

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