Living a Life That Matters

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, December 27, 2018

As we move into 2019, the darkness of winter is slowly receding. The shortest day of the year/longest night of the year has passed and we celebrate the secular new year. Along with the change of dates, as the clock strikes midnight, many people make new year’s resolutions. Statistically, at the top of these lists are resolutions related to self-improvement: health – weight loss, eating healthy, quitting smoking or drinking; education- going back to school, doing better in school or learning something new; finance – saving or making more money; and relationships – spending more time with family and friends or repairing problems.

For us as a Jewish community, who have already celebrated the new year – Rosh Hashanah- back in September, now is also a good time for checking in on the spiritual commitments that we made at the start of the Jewish New Year. In the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we engaged in cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our souls, and in the process of teshuvah – of return to who we are meant to be and in our relationship with God and with our family and friends. The preparation leading up to Rosh Hashanah, and continual cheshbon hanefesh, checking in on the spiritual commitments that we have made, are all about living a life that matters.

The idea of setting goals, and of personal reflection at set times of the year and at set times of our lives is reflected in Jewish life and learning. In the fourth century, a respected teacher and scholar, Rava, reflects on living a life that matters (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a). He teaches: On the day you enter heaven you will be asked these questions:

  1. Did you deal honestly with people in business? This question is about living a life of honesty and integrity, not just making money. How you deal with clients and customers is a reflection of your values and character.
  2. Did you set a fixed time for Torah study? Once we leave formal schooling it is harder to make time for learning. Between obligations for work and home, our lvies become complicated and busy. But we all need to learn and grow. So, the rabbis tell us: make an appointment for study – sign up for a Torah class, learn on Shabbat, listen to a podcast on the way to work or while you exercise. Set a time to study and then live a life of purpose.
  3. Did you engage in procreation? In other words, did you create a legacy? Did you have children, or teach the next generation, or did you mentor someone? Did you think not only about yourself, but did you work to build for a better future, for those who will come after you?
  4. Did you live with hope for deliverance? Did you live with hope in your heart? It is not always easy to find hope in the midst of the daily struggles of life. This question reminds us to strive to find beauty and wonder in everyday things.
  5. Were your arguments for the sake of heaven? Did you seek deeper meaning in life? This question is about learning from your experiences. We have choices in life and if we do not learn from our mistakes, we cannot grow as human beings. Likewise, we also have to learn that making mistakes are part of living and that we can move on. It’s about figuring out what is important and what was not.

Life is full of choices. As we reflect on our journey to finding our unique purpose and meaning in life, we are guided by the wisdom and path of Torah and tradition. When we learn what is most important and choose to spend time on that which we value, then we will be living lives that matter.

Happy 2019!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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