By Daniella Weiss
As we return rejuvenated from the holiday break and Shabbos Bereishis, we need to focus on the meaning of a new beginning and how can we ensure that this year will be one of personal growth. We must become more committed to our life goal: closeness to Hashem. We come closer to Hashem through working on our middos and through performing the mitzvos with the proper actions, thoughts, and feelings.
I heard a powerful idea from Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, Rav of Kehilas Tiferes Mordechai in Cedarhurst. At one point in the travels of Yaakov Avinu, Rashi (Bereishis 32:2) explains that the guiding angels of Eretz Yisrael replaced those from outside Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban questions this, as, at that point in the narrative, Yaakov hadn’t yet reached the land and should, therefore, be solely associated with the angels outside of Eretz Yisrael. The Maharal explains that Hashem doesn’t judge a person by where they are currently but rather considers their destination. The question is where you are headed, not where you are presently standing. Yaakov was going to Eretz Yisrael so those angels joined him on the journey. We see this idea in Halacha, as well. Shkiya (sunset) is considered night in many halachic situations. For example, a person should not daven mincha after that time, even though it still looks like daytime outside. The Alter of Slabodka explains that Hashem judges things based on where they are headed. At sunset, the night is coming so, even though it remains light out, it is considered night.
We are headed towards coming closer to Hashem and in Hashem’s eyes, we are already there. We show Hashem that we want to come closer to Him through the small steps we take in each of the three pillars that the word stands upon (Pirkei Avos 1:2). The first of the three pillars is Torah. The Torah is the guide to live a meaningful life according to the Creator Himself. The more we learn the Torah, the better we understand how to live our lives and the closer we become to Hashem. The Mishna Berura (1:12) says that a person must establish a time to learn Mussar, regardless of the amount. Just like every day a person eats and exercises, learning each day needs to be part of our routine.
The second of the triad that the world stands upon is avoda. Davening is a major part of each day. Besides the set tefillos, a person has the opportunity to speak with, praise, and thank Hashem at any time. Since everything is in Hashem’s hands, we should ask Hashem for anything, all of the time. Hashem loves each of His children and longs to hear from us. The Gemara in Berachos 6b says that tefilla stands at the height of the world and yet people treat it lightly. We cannot fathom the power of tefilla and that we cannot fully achieve what we aspire to do unless we daven for it.
Finally, the third pillar is chesed and kind acts. In college, where students are busy studying and learning, it’s especially important to have time to do chesed and give to others. Rav Yisrael Salanter says in Netivos Ohr that a “person was not created for themselves, rather to benefit another.” If there are opportunities to visit the sick or elderly or even clubs around school that offer volunteer opportunities, that’s something to take advantage of. Even in our personal lives, there are opportunities to do chesed with roommates or friends. Holding the door for someone, smiling at another, or complimenting someone else can go a long way. Little actions like those make a big difference.
Hashem doesn’t expect us to be completely different people after the Yomim Noraim (the Days of Awe). Hashem simply expects us to start heading in the right direction. It starts with the small steps we begin to take today.