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May 9, 2009 | by Nesanel Yoel Safran

A Rosh Hashana Story

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is a holiday dedicated to personal growth. It's a special time that God gives us to grow even better people over the coming year. The most effective way to do this is not to try to improve everything about ourselves at once, but to just pick one or two small things and commit to doing them, one step at a time. Let's take advantage of the Rosh Hashana opportunity and have a happy, growth-filled New Year!

In our story, a kid harnesses the power of Rosh Hashana to grow one step at a time.

Lisa looked over her shoulder and noticed her roommate, Judy sitting at her desk, busily writing out what looked like a shopping list.

"Hey, Judy, if you're going to the store can I add one or two things?"


"To your shopping list. I just need a couple of things from the store to bring home with me for Rosh Hashana vacation and I really don't have time to go."

"This isn't a shopping list, silly." Judy laughed.

"So what is it, then?" asked Lisa.

"Weren't you in class today when the teacher told us all about how on Rosh Hashana we're supposed to improve ourselves?"

"Sure I was. So?"

"So...this is my Rosh Hashana list. I just wrote out 20 things I'm going to totally change about myself, starting Rosh Hashana. Here, listen..." Judy held her list, sat up straight and proudly began:

"1) I'm never going to lie again.
2) I'm never going to oversleep again.
3) I'm going to always be in a good mood.
4) I'm never going to—ahem—use my roommate's stuff without asking first.
5) I'm never..."

"Wait a minute, Judy," Lisa cut in.

"What's the matter?" asked Judy, "If you're mad about number four, you don't have to worry. I said I'm never going to do it again."

"No, it's not that," said Lisa. "It's just that your list is making me dizzy. It's impossible to do all that stuff so fast and at one time." Judy put down her list as Lisa went on. "Sure, Rosh Hashana's about growth -- but not all at once. It's great that you want to improve, but this is way too much at one time. You just need to commit to one small step at a time, and stick to it, that's all."

"So, what's on your Rosh Hashana list, then?" Judy asked, confused.

"Well, if you really want to know," Lisa smiled, "I just committed to doing at least one thing to help someone feel good every day."

"That's it?" Judy asked, amazed.

"Yeah, that's it. And if it goes okay, in another month or so, I might commit do doing one more thing each day."

Judy looked upset. "Well, I think you'll never get anywhere that way. I'm sticking to my list and I am going to do it all at once. Wait and see!"

The kids went home for Rosh Hashana vacation. A few weeks later, when Lisa first arrived back in her school dorm room, Judy was sitting on Lisa's bed, munching on one of Lisa's granola bars. When the girl noticed her come in, she jumped up and hid the bar behind her back.

"Oh, hi." Judy said nervously. "I'm sorry, I, um, must have gotten our beds mixed up or something..." Then she hung her head and took her hand with the half-eaten bar from behind her back. "Oh Lisa, I can't believe it. I just broke another two of my Rosh Hashana resolutions at one time. Not only did I take your things without asking -- I just lied about it too! In fact," she sniffed, "I haven't been able to stick to any of my resolutions. I guess it really was too much. Can you ever forgive me?"

Lisa was about to tell Judy off and to say ‘I told you so.' But then she remembered her own Rosh Hashana commitment -- to help someone feel better once a day. Forgiving Judy would certainly make her feel better. She smiled and said, "It's okay, Judy. I know you're sorry and I forgive you. So just enjoy the snack and have a happy New Year!"

Questions Ages 3-5:

Q. How did Judy feel at first about Lisa's idea of just trying to do just one thing better at a time?

A. She didn't like the idea and felt she could do it all at once.

Q. How did she feel in the end?

A. She saw how trying to do too much at once wouldn't work.

Ages 6-9:

Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?

A. One thing is, that the path of self-growth is best accomplished by taking one small step at a time and committing to it, rather than trying to do too much at once, which usually leads to giving up and doing nothing at all.

Q. Why do you think Judy failed to stick to her self-improvement commitments?

A. Often, when we see things about ourselves we would like to change and feel inspired to do so, we are tempted to try to do it all ‘overnight'—like Judy did. While this is a positive feeling, it is unrealistic to expect to change deeply ingrained patterns in ourselves so quickly. Making positive growth-changes in ourselves is one of life's greatest goals and like any major goal, we can best succeed by taking measured, steady steps.

Spiritual exercise: Between now and Rosh Hashanah, think of and commit to one small thing you can do that will help you grow in a positive direction and begin doing it.

Ages ten and up:

Q. In your opinion, is self-searching and seeking things about ourselves that need improving, an activity that will lead to happiness or depression? Why?

A. It all depends on our outlook and approach. If we think of ourselves as ‘bad' for having these less-than-perfect traits and behavior patterns, focusing on them is likely to bring us down and this type of thinking is best avoided. However if we realize the deeper truth, that God put each of us into the world with our own custom ‘portfolio' of character strengths and weaknesses. He gave us the life mission of taking this portfolio and trying to ‘turn a profit' by directing our strengths toward meaningful pursuits and chipping away at our weaknesses—slowly and steadily—to improve, then doing this is the most deeply soul-satisfying and joyful activity possible—for it's fulfilling our life's mission!

Q. Our sages teach that ‘grabbing too much is like grabbing nothing.' What do you think this means?

A. It is human nature that when we have our sights on a worthwhile goal that we want to grab it all and to grab it now. However, our sages are revealing to us a precious secret; that this thinking is a trap and bound to eventually backfire. The secret to success and accomplishment in any realm—physical or spiritual—is to move toward it in measured, consistent steps.

Spiritual exercise: Between now and Rosh Hashanah, think of and commit to one small thing you can do that will help you grow in a positive direction and begin doing it.

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