Every summer over the past few years I begin worrying about the upcoming High-Holiday season. It’s not that I have a problem going to my mother-in-law. Not at all. Let me explain:
I’m not a perfect guy and every time Rosh Hashana comes along, I’m inspired to change, making firm resolutions that next year I will be calmer, spend more time with the family, be more committed to my Torah studies – the list just goes on. I really mean it and I could feel G-d listening.
But year after year, it doesn’t take long for the inspiration to fizzle away and I discover the same old Chaim, struggling with the same issues.
I feel like those “Yom Kippur Jews” who come to shul once or twice a year, and that’s where it ends.
What’s wrong with me? Am I doing it wrong? Is all my inspiration just imagination?
Hi Inspired Chaim!
I will begin by telling you that it’s good you reached out now. Like everything in life, succeeding to prepare is preparing to succeed!
What you are describing is an extremely common phenomenon.
Like you mentioned, every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur you see those “Yom Kippur Jews” – new faces who don’t frequent the shul year round yet still always show up for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Many of them will fast and observe the special mitzvos of the day. In Israel, where almost 80% of the population are not yet Torah observant, the highways and streets are empty of cars!
Let’s talk about “Yom Kippur Jews” a little.
Everyone, by their level, is inspired from these holy days, but it’s equally as common to lose that inspiration
Why do we get inspired, why do we lose it? Is it just fake? Wouldn’t it last if it was real?
So the first thing is, no; you’re not a faker. Your neshama (soul) does wake up on the Yamim Noraim. Just like the non-observant Jew’s neshama does.
What happens on the Yamim Noraim is something called in the Kabbalistic and Chassidic lingo “kiruv ha’maor el ha’nitzotz” – the attraction of the luminary to the spark.
Every Jew is a part of G-d, a spark of a huge torch. There is an interesting natural phenomenon that when you bring a torch close to small sparks, they will become attracted and disappear into the larger flames. That is because they really are made of the same thing, and when the spark “senses” that its source is nearby it leaps towards it and reunites.
During the aseres yemei teshuva (the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until after Yom Kippur) we are told by G-d through His prophet “seek G-d when He is found, call out to Him when He is near.”
A Jew, by his very definition, can never become detached from G-d, and G-d listens whenever we call out to Him. But at this time of year, G-d makes himself extra-close. And because He is close, our soul senses it and becomes attracted; to shul if we don’t come often, and if we are frequent visitors to shul, we become attracted by a greater sense of belonging.
So that inspiration is real, it’s probably the most real thing in the world.
The key to understanding what happens after lies in another realm of our human experience – our body.
If we were only souls, then once we get close, we would never leave. But there is this gravitational pull of our bodies that brings us back to our regular human reality once that closeness of G-d disappears after the holiday season.
We cannot expect to live with the same feeling of elation during the year; that spiritual reality does change. What we could do is capture some of that inspiration and live with it throughout the year.
How? In order to address this issue we must take a lesson or two from how things work in this world. Think of yourself as a business man. You are CEO of a large corporation that employs hundreds of workers. You get word from your accountant that sales have slowed down and the company is suffering terrible losses. What do you do?
Here is one thing you can do: you gather all your executives and employees and tell them how bad the situation is and if things keep going in this direction the company will fall apart and they will all lose their jobs. You urge them to become more devoted. Everyone leaves the meeting inspired and fired up to restore the corporation to its previous glory.
What will the outcome be? Chances are that no great change will be on the horizon. A corporation of this size is made up of many workers in charge of many different and diverse jobs. Usually, if there are losses it’s because a certain branch of the company needs to be fixed, maybe the sales department, maybe the PR department, maybe the production department.
A smart CEO will try do some serious research to discover what went wrong and why the customers are not consuming what the corporation has to offer. He may discover that the PR division is underfunded and can’t compete with competitors to generate a buzz about your products. He may find that cuts the company did last year on the production line resulted in compromising the quality of the goods, something which obviously the customers feel. He may discover that while the PR and the quality is doing well, the sales department is targeting the wrong demographic.
Now that he knows what is wrong, he can target the department in need of improvement and inspire them with a plan on how to improve their division.
What we do many times on the Yamim Noraim is look at the whole picture without focusing on the details. Our neshama’s closeness to G-d cause us to realize that we are not doing well enough in general. We in turn get inspired to fix it all up. The problem is that we fail to realize what it is that’s tainting the entire picture. In today’s age of digital imaging we know that a picture is a collection of individual pixels. To make the picture look better we must fix the damaged pixels!
While it feels very noble and holy to stand before G-d and declare that from today on I will never do anything wrong again, we all know that it won’t work. If instead we utilize the Yamim Noraim inspiration to shine a spotlight on specific problems, and then come before G-d and say: “Dear G-d! I have an issue with anger control, I am trying to fix it and please help me with my journey,” chances are that we will be able to “capture” that immense experience and use the inspiration throughout the coming year. By the next Yom Kippur you won’t be perfect, you probably will have ups and downs over time, but your “big picture” will look prettier. You will have “better” problems to fix.
Every year, in January, people buy treadmills and make annual gym subscriptions. In February, just weeks later the gyms are empty and only have a few determined bodybuilders running miles and lifting weights. What happened to the 300 new members? Where did they go? According to statistics, only 8% of Americans are successful in achieving their New Year’s resolutions!
They probably made a resolution to run for an hour every day, or to come to gym 5 days a week, and they really meant it. But they were under the influence of something, and when that passed, back came their old, lazy self. How about if they would make a resolution to run for just 15 minutes once or twice a week? That may have lasted until March…
Inspiration is like fuel, but you need to consult a rabbi or mentor to build a personalized plan that will make the most out of the bottle of preserved Yamin Noraim inspiration.
Wishing you success in keeping the inspiration coming!
This idea is based on a thought that appears in Kuntres HaAvodah, a seven chapter treatise, originally written by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson of Lubavitch for the students of his Yeshivah Tomchei T’mimim, the first Yeshiva to ever incorporate into its official study curricula an official program for the study of Chassidus, the inner realm of Torah.
In the treatise, he offers practical advice and direction on achieving a higher level of “Avodah Shebalev” (-“service of the heart,”), a Talmudic term for prayer. Hence the title of the work: Kuntres HaAvodah.