I’ve never been a rubberband-around-the-wrist kind of guy, but I do love making lists. I very rarely leave myself a voicemail, but I most certainly set reminders for myself in my phone (sometimes it feels like it goes off every five years). Each of us has our own method(s) for remembering to do something, and most of the time, we know which are our most successful techniques (the tricks we use to remember the honey-do list, for example) and the techniques which are less successful (the tricks we use for the items on the honey-do list we know that we can defer until the next honey-do list, for example). So, as we approach the end of 5773 and look toward Rosh Hashanah 5774, now just a couple weeks away, which strategy will we use with our New Year commitments–the more successful reminder techniques or the less successful ones? How serious are we about “change” going into this New Year?
In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Ki Tavo, Moses begins the third and final of his discourses to our ancestors before they enter the Promised Land without him. “As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the LORD your God is giving you,” Moses tells them, “you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3). Our ancestors were required to create permanent, visual reminders of the mitzvot (commandments) to which they and we are bound. Moses goes on to instruct them to erect these large stones on top of Mount Ebal, some 30 miles and more than 4000 feet uphill from where the Israelites would cross the Jordan–obviously placing the reminders in a place where they could not be ignored. Certainly it might have been easy for our ancestors to forget to fulfill the mitzvot. Once the trials and tribulations of the Exodus had come to an end, and they were surrounded by land flowing with milk and honey, it might have been easy to ignore God’s role in their lives and the expectations God had of them. To prevent the Israelites from taking the covenant for granted and ignoring their obligations, Moses required of them a very tangible, real method of reminders.
In our own day, we are overwhelmed with things to be done and excuses to be offered. As we enter now these last two weeks of 5773, though, we have an opportunity to set up for ourselves real, tangible reminders of the concrete changes we want to make in this coming year. Want to treat your spouse more lovingly? Hang your ketubah above your bed. Want to make Shabbat dinner more a part of your life? Leave your Shabbat candle sticks out. Want to give more to charity? Place a tzedakah box on the counter and place money into it as you take your morning vitamins or pills. Want to make Jewish study a fixed part of your routine? RSVP for CSZ adult ed or Fed Ed classes, and put them in your calendar. Want to get your kids doing more Jewish? Hang the Shaarey Zedek calendar on your fridge. Want to remember to be a better person? Tape a note to your car. Place a rubber-band around your wrist. Make a list. Put it in your cell phone. Leave yourself a voice mail. Plug it into the reminders on your phone. Hang a banner from your wall. Do something. Anything…
In two short weeks we will begin a new year, and we will pray that God will write us in the Book of Life for a year of health and joy. Let us do our part to commit to meaningful changes in our life, and let us utilize our most successful techniques for remembering our new commitments.
Rebecca, Caleb and Ayal join me in wishing you Shabbat shalom um’vorach.
-Rabbi Aaron Starr