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"Run not too far, for thou must return the same distance." (Midrash - Kohelet Rabbati 11)
Every person will, at some point in his life, take an accounting. Even more than asking if he achieved his goals, he will ask himself if he achieved the right goals.
"Was it worth all that effort? Could I have achieved more? If only I had thought it through...."
You don't have to be old to ask these questions. But the older you are, the harder these questions are to face ... and the more frequently they rise to consciousness.
The High Holidays trains us to think through and face these questions now, as opposed to then. To take the pain of "now," rather than the anguish of "then." Pain is passing, but the results are permanent.
SET YOUR SIGHTS
"In striving for goals, you may chance to smell the roses along the way. Be wary my son, lest the weariness of your feet and the luring fragrance entice you onto a very different course...
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) helps us put life into perspective:
"And shall man ... be casual and inattentive and ignore the seriousness which attaches to his every step? Shall he scatter thoughts, feelings, enjoyments, words and deeds with blind recklessness like seeds in the bosom of the future, completely forgetting that even the most idle thought does not pass through his breast without leaving some trace, some result? Shall he play with his years, months, days and hours without reflecting that eternity belongs to every moment? Shall he laugh at the claim which the universe possesses on every one of his steps? Shall he laugh at the future which he builds with every one of his movements?"
Life without thought is action without meaningful consequence. Thought brings real decisions. It's the opportunity to decide where you want to go, rather than being led where the world wants you to go. Without thought, it's the roses that direct your path. Every fragrance, every distraction sets you toward another direction. You wind up leading life by your nose, not your mind.
During this High Holiday season, take an honest moment and reflect back on the previous year. Did it give you what you wanted, or was it a year of aimless pursuits?
Moses lived a full life, 120 years to the day. He reached the pinnacle of his potential. His life, like this week's Parsha, was a beautiful song.
So set your sights. Focus your ambition. Plan your goals in a way that guarantees their success. But ensure that the goals you choose, if achieved, will afford you next High Holidays the pleasure of knowing your year was very well spent.
BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: What are your three biggest achievements in the past year?
Question 2: What are your three biggest mistakes in the past year?
Question 3: If (God forbid) you knew you would only live for one more year, what is the most significant thing you would want to achieve?