Can People Change?

February 15, 2018

How we really try.

So much money and effort is spent on self improvement. Books, courses, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy. But do we ever really change? Are we bound to the redundancy of our habits and set patterns…stuck and unable to change?

What does Judaism say about change? The Torah and its mitzvos, our rabbinical laws and customs afford us the opportunity to refresh and renew. It offers us a new slate – a fresh start – the opportunity to change.

Kiddush l’vanah – prayer to sanctify the moon

The moon darkens and returns full and bright. Every month miraculously a fresh new moon. God demonstrates His glory in an ongoing renewal. After darkness comes light. We note this, we sanctify this, we are refreshed by this.

Birchas Hachodesh: sh’m’chadesh alenu es ha chodesh ha zeh l’tovah –

That renews for us this month for goodness. This beautiful prayer implores God to grant us new life, good life.

Each month there is a new moon. We note it, we are blessed, and we are reminded of the opportunities to renew ourselves – a fresh start.

When someone buys something new, we as Jews don’t greet them with the usual “wear it in good health.” In fact, we make no mention of the item at all. We say “Tischadesh” you should have a renewal.

It was just as summer was ending. I was around 10 years old. My older sister and I set out to prepare for the new school year. We bought new pencils, a new pencil case, new notebooks, as well as a new briefcase. We then cleaned out and set up a study area in my bedroom. New, neat and ready for the new school year.

I cannot describe how wonderful I felt with my new neat set up – I was rearing to go – to make a new attempt at being neat and organized.

In the prayer we say each morning leading up to the shema we say:

Hamechadesh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh bereshis. He renews with His goodness every day, regularly, the work of creation.

It was not enough to say Hamichadesh b’tuvo bechol yom – He renews with His goodness every day. It further emphasizes tamid – regularly. And then it goes even further with the profound concept of ma’aseh bereshis – a new creation.

That God renews with His goodness every day regularly gives us the opportunity to latch on for a fresh start. That it is ma’aseh bereshis, makes it even better. This new creation means that the conditions that were present when we tried and didn’t quite succeed last time, have changed – we have a fresh opportunity to succeed.

And of course, let us not forget the mother of all renewals – Rosh Hashanah – the New Year. Unlike other cultures that celebrate the new year with parties, for us it is the ultimate opportunity for change. We use Rosh Hashanah as the big opportunity. The once a year New Year time for thought, prayer, rededication and renewal.

Can people change? We know the answer. Clear and simple – that with seyatah d’shmaya – with God’s help – Yes…we can.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.