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Family Parsha Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashanah (Day 1: Genesis 21; Day 2: Genesis 22 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran


The New Year is a time to make resolutions. It's a time to look at ourselves and figure out ways we can change for the better. The Jewish people have been making resolutions on Rosh Hashana for over 3000 years. This is no mere custom. On Rosh Hashana, God gives us the opportunity to spiritually 're-program' the upcoming year and increase our health, wealth, and happiness. Let's make the most of this dynamic day by making sincere and meaningful resolutions, telling God we regret our past mistakes and asking Him to give us the courage and strength to stick to our resolution to change.

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In our story a girl makes a change for the better, and is glad she did.


      Janis Engel knew that it wasn't right to lie. Every time she did it she felt awful for days after. Yet time after time she found herself bending the truth, stretching it, and even breaking it to bits. Almost everything, but telling it.

      One day, on Rosh Hashana, she decided enough is enough! From now on, nothing but the truth. Her plan went really well - at first. She felt like a new person, who was ready to speak honestly with her parents, teachers, and friends. But soon enough the day came when her New Year's resolution was really put to the test...

      It started innocently enough. She and her friend Abigail were sitting together, studying at the school library. There was almost no one else there, and soon the girls found themselves growing restless, and Janis decided to take a break. One of the most interesting things about the Hamilton School library was the big, antique-looking globe near the reference desk. Chains surrounded it on all sides, each bearing the daunting "DO NOT TOUCH" sign, on a neatly printed card.

      Janis usually stuck to the rules, but for some reason, perhaps just out of boredom, she impulsively reached over and gave the old globe a little push, spinning it gently on its axis. Emboldened, she gave it another spin or two, this time much harder, and soon Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific were whirling around like a giant top. Janis felt like she had the whole world in her hands.

      Suddenly disaster struck. One of the rarely used hinges came loose, and the spinning globe plunged onto the floor with a thud. Janis didn't stick around to investigate whether it had broken or not. Within seconds the girl had darted across the library and was back in her seat as if the whole thing had never happened.

      But just as her heart had stopped pounding and she was beginning to feel off the hook, Janis felt an ominous shadow hovering over her table.

      "Ahem ... do either of you girls know who was playing with the globe?" asked Ms. Leeman, the stern-faced librarian. Abigail shrugged innocently and Janis was about to do the same. But then she remembered her resolution. "How could I tell a lie?" she asked herself. "But how could I tell the truth?! I'll get into so much trouble - maybe even get kicked out of school!"

      The girl took a deep breath. "A resolution is a resolution. Nothing but the truth," she thought.

      "Um ... Ms. Leeman, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to touch it. I got carried away..."

      Janis felt close to tears, yet somehow relieved at telling the truth. Surprisingly the librarian didn't yell or scream. In fact her face began to soften, the barest hint of a smile on the corner of her lips. "You should know," she said "I had seen you touching the globe from my office. Had you denied it, I was planning to take disciplinary action. But since you were honest enough to tell the truth, I believe you that you didn't mean any harm. Since fortunately the globe didn't break, I'm going to let it go."

      Janis sat stunned at the turn of events, and resolved more than ever to stick to her resolutions.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Janis feel when the librarian first asked her whether she touched the globe?
A. She felt like the easiest thing to do would be to deny it, even though it wasn't true and she had made a resolution only to tell the truth.

Q. How did she feel after she changed her mind and told the truth?
A. She felt much better. Firstly because she stuck to her resolution, and also when she saw how doing so helped her stay out of trouble.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why should we make resolutions? Isn't it enough just to act better?
A. A person who is serious about self-improvement will try to find any strategies that will help him reach his goal. One of the most powerful tools for this is to clearly define where we need to improve, and explicitly express how we intend to get there. In other words - make resolutions. This takes our self-improvement plan out of the wishy-washy realm of "Well, one of these day, I guess I should think about trying to change..." and turns it into a concrete and effective game plan. In our story, Janis' clearly defined resolution to only tell the truth, gave her the clarity and strength to stick to her values when the going got tough.

Q. Why do you think that Rosh Hashana is a more promising day for self-improvement resolutions than just any old day?
A. There is a Jewish saying that "the body follows after the head." Rosh Hashana literally means "the head of the year." It's not just a day on the calendar, but a spiritual reality that begins a new yearly cycle of time. What we decide for ourselves on that day becomes part of the "head," influencing and guiding our actions and decisions for the entire coming year.

Q. What is one New Year's resolution you're going to take on this year?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What steps do you think a person could take to best use resolution-making as a program of personal transformation?

A. Classical Jewish sources outline a three-step program. The first thing is to gain clarity about exactly in which ways we need to improve and clearly state them to ourselves and to God. The next step is to access and state our feelings of what we are missing in our lives, by not having yet improved. The final step is to affirm our intention to actively pursue a path of behavior from now on that will lead us toward our elevated goal.

Q. What should we do if we make a resolution and then blow it?
A. First of all, no need to panic. We're all human and nobody's perfect. The main challenge at that time is to have the courage to pick ourselves up and get back on the horse. Our resolutions, more than anything, represent the direction in which we strive to move. If the resolution was a good one, then stick to it and keep trying. The greatest people freely admit that they may fall hundreds of time before they reach their goals. Life is a process, and a person trying to grow has tapped into the true essence of life.

Q. What is one New Year's resolution you're going to take on this year?

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