Plans for the new year

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Rachel will be contributing regular commentaries and d’var Torah reflections, which will be posted on the Jewish Light’s website, — some of which will also be included in the Jewish Light’s print editions.

By Rachel LaVictoire

It’s strange the sort of emphasis that’s put on New Years. We have 12 new months, 52 new weeks, and even 365 new days, yet so many people see January 1st as a day of redemption — when past mistakes and grievances disintegrate and we can start fresh. “This year,” we tell ourselves. This will be the year we quit smoking, lose 10 pounds, get married, get a promotion, get good grades, learn a new language, erase debt, and chase that childhood dream.

I’m not calling New Year’s resolutions foolish. It’s important to have goals and aspirations — things to work towards and to keep us motivated. What I’m more skeptical about is the instantaneous change that people expect when they flip the page on their calendar to reveal the auspicious lettering that reads January 2013.

Take for example, the hypothetical Shmoe family. Joe Shmoe has dinner with his family Dec. 31st. Mrs. Shmoe had laid a beautiful table cloth over the wooden dining room table, sat two sterling silver candlesticks in the middle, and put out the family’s nice china, complete with wine glasses and napkin rings. Joe sits down with his children, Boy Shmoe and Girl Shmoe, and Mrs. Shmoe pulls dinner from the oven and pours wine for herself and her husband. The four dine and chat, reminiscing about the year that’s passed. They can’t help but think about all of it — about how strange it feels to be 365 days away from last year’s New Years Eve, about how so much has changed, but also how so much remains the same.

Finally, Joe asks, “so what are everyone’s New Year’s resolutions?” After moments of consideration, each person answers. Mrs. Shmoe will lose 10 pounds, Joe will stop working late nights at the office, and Girl and Boy Shmoe both vow to spend more time outside. Done.


Later, the ball drops and they clink their flutes of champagne and sparkling apple juice. The kids stay up playing iPhone games, Joe finished up some reports for work, and Mrs. Shmoe sits in the living room with chocolate cake, watching the celebrities in Times Square. But tomorrow, as per their resolutions, all of this will change, right?

Probably for a little bit. Then maybe Mrs. Shmoe will have a birthday lunch and indulge in dessert. Maybe Joe will have a presentation to prepare for, keeping him in the office late one night. The kids get stuck inside one day because of inclement weather. They’ll get frustrated with themselves for failing and before they know it, they’ve all given up.

Why? Because turning a page in your life is not as easy as turning the page in your calendar. We need to be ready. We need to have a plan. Mrs. Shmoe can’t go from chocolate-lover to salad-lover because the calendar says it’s time to change — and neither can anyone else.

In this week’s parshah, Va’eira, G-d speaks to Moses. G-d says He has heard the cries of his people and He is going to redeem them from slavery. Even G-d, though, understands that a change of that stature can be overwhelming. Therefore, G-d says to Moses,

“I am the Lord, and I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you… And I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a God to you… I will bring you to the land… I will give it to you as a heritage” (Exodus 6:6-8).

Notice all of the promises, the individual steps: I will save, I will redeem, I will take, I will be a G-d, I will bring, and I will give you a heritage.

Even with all the planning, things did not start smoothly. Moses cried out to G-d, “Behold, I am of closed lips; so how will Pharaoh hearken to me?” (Exodus 6:30). G-d immediately responded, showing us that a struggle is no reason for quitting. He comforts Moses and tells him, “I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker. You shall speak all that I command you, and Aaron, your brother, shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7: 1-3).

The rest of the story is well known. Pharaoh won’t believe Moses, so Moses will turn his staff into a serpent. Still, Pharaoh’s heart will not soften and so G-d will send down 10 plagues and the Israelites will walk towards freedom. Pharaoh will change his mind and chase after them, and G-d will part the Red Sea and then allow the waters to fall in and drown the Egyptians. Thus, the Israelites will be free.

We won’t read about the miracle of the Red Sea and the freeing of the Israelites for two more weeks. Patience– that’s what we are being taught here. We see G-d as omnipotent and omniscient, and yet He did not save the Israelites instantly. G-d first made the choice to free them, then planned their escape, spoke to leaders, dealt with obstacles, and eventually was able to pronounce the Israelites as free. If G-d doesn’t make abrupt changes, why should we put that pressure on ourselves?

Give yourself time. Sit down with your friends and family and ask yourself what you really hope to gain in the upcoming year. Build a plan. Then build a second plan for what to do when your first plan falls apart. Work towards your goals and dreams, but don’t be discouraged if you fall short a few times. And when you get there, when you’re accomplished and proud, do as the Israelites did and celebrate — “And Miriam raised her voice with song. She sang with praise and might, We’ve just lived through a miracle, we’re going to dance tonight” (Miriam’s Song, Debbie Friedman).