Improve yourself and improve the world

By Rabbi Samuel Fox, Rabbi Emeritus, Beth Jacob Congregation

Rabbi Samuel Fox

With Rosh Hashanah around the corner, each of us should engage in the national pastime of making resolutions for self improvement. Some of us will try to cover the waterfront with a multitude of resolutions, listing a catalog of sins and shortcomings that cry out for self improvement. Others may be more selective and choose just a few that sorely need change and improvement and will enhance our character, Jewish life style, and life values.

The key is to make them in utter sincerity and integrity. To be effective in remodeling and reshaping our lives, in improving and eliminating some of our flagrant character flaws and failures, resolutions must be made with considerable forethought and with a serious attitude. They should not be taken lightly, as one wit remarked: resolutions are only made to be broken. No, they should be made to be kept, to be honored, to be fulfilled. They can make a difference in our lives.

It has wisely been said that the biggest room in the world is the room for self improvement. This applies to everyone. No one is exempt. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we should take this message to heart and make this the projected goal for each and every one of us. Let us remember that each person can improve the world by first improving himself.

I am reminded of a story that is told about a general who is reviewing some of the troops. At the conclusion, the commanding officer makes the following announcement: The general is looking for a tailor. One of the soldiers responds in the affirmative. He then is told to follow the general to his office. When they get there, the general removes his coat and shows him he has a button missing and a slight tear in the jacket sleeve and asks him to fix it. The soldier is highly embarrassed and replies that he is not a tailor by trade. His name is Taylor, and he’s a Taylor in name only.

On Rosh Hashanah, when as Jews we are obligated to do some serious soul searching and introspection, many of us will admit in our heart of hearts that we, unfortunately, are Jews in name only.

We fail to attend synagogue services on the Sabbath and holidays and certainly at the daily minyan. We fail to attend the rabbis’ lessons and lectures.

And perhaps, most grievous of all, we fail to bring our children and grandchildren to the synagogue. We fail to enroll them in our Hillel Academy day school for a more intensive Jewish education.

Why should we then be surprised when they become alienated from their Judaism and their glorious Jewish heritage?

Our rabbis teach us lo hamidrash ha’ikar elo hama’aseh: it is not the learning, but the deed that counts. We impact upon our children and grandchildren not by offering mere lip service and making grandiose professions and platitudes about Jewish ideals, but by observing them.

If we truly wish that our children and grandchildren would follow the Jewish path, our glorious traditions and teachings, we must show the way. We must teach them by example.

We live in the greatest democracy in the world. Freedom of religion is one of our most cherished cornerstones. Let us not give it a false spin and mistakenly read it as freedom from religion. It is high time for a rude spiritual reawakening. It is high time to make worthy, meaningful resolutions to improve our lives and those of our children, family and klal Yisrael, all of Israel.

Let us resolve this Rosh Hashanah to be Jews not in name only but in deed, in conduct, and in practice as well. Let us live proud, happy, meaningful and dignified Jewish lives. We will then merit a year of health and happiness, of peace and prosperity, of fruition and fulfillment for ourselves, loved ones and klal Yisrael.

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