Every person will, at some point in his life, take an accounting. He will not only ask whether he achieved his goals, but also 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. The older you are, though, the harder these questions are to face, and the more frequently they rise to your consciousness. The High Holidays train us to think through and face these questions now, as opposed to in the future; to take the pain of “now,” rather than the anguish of “then,” because pain is passing, but the results are permanent.
“And shall man ... be casual and inattentive and ignore the seriousness which attaches to his every step?” writes Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century German Jewish scholar. “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, Rabbi Hirsch is saying. In striving for goals, you may chance to smell the roses along the way, but you should be wary lest the weariness of your feet and the alluring fragrance entice you onto a very different course. Without thought, it’s the “roses” you can stop to smell 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 — but ensure that the goals you choose, if achieved, will afford you the pleasure during the next High Holidays of knowing it was a year very well spent.
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. He did nine years of post-graduate studies at the Aish HaTorah Rabbinical College in Jerusalem, and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. Learn more at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.