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By Rabbi David Wolpe
December 20, 2016
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David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

The best resolutions are elastic—they cannot be broken with a single act. If you swear never to touch red meat, one burger ruins the resolution. If, on the other hand, you pledge to eat healthier food, each day you have a chance to fulfill the resolution anew. Below are five elastic spiritual resolutions that can carry you throughout the year.

1. Engage with people more than pixels.

Looking at a phone is quick and undemanding. Texting is easier than talking—it gives you intimacy without danger. This year, resolve to spend more time looking into someone’s eyes when you communicate with them. Replace an extended exchange on text with a meeting for coffee. Make a promise of presence.

2. Take your soul seriously.

It is easy to pretend that what we watch and how we speak have no effects on us. But the constant pounding of hatreds and dehumanization that marks so much of our media have consequences for our character. Part of who you are is the sum of the influences you choose: what you watch, who you associate with, how you speak about others both publicly and privately. Life is a continuous journey of soul shaping, and this year, resolve to keep your deep journey in mind. Turn away from something seductive but corrosive—Twitter rants full of bile, or people who continually insult those around them, or depictions of violence that take savage delight in suffering. You only get one soul; don’t squander it in things unworthy of its majesty.

3. Increase your kindness.

If you wish to feel kind, do something good. The great secret of moral growth is that it often begins from the outside. Rather than your joy leading you to smile, your smile can lead you to joy. Behave generously even when you do not feel like it and the habit will grow as will your innate quality of kindness. The act can be small or large; it can be a charitable contribution or a gentle word or help with a heavy bag on an airplane. Do it.

4. Choose someone to forgive.

All of us have legitimate grievances in our lives. Some people are very hard to forgive but you need not begin with the toughest cases. Small acts of grace will grow. Forgive the guy who cut you off in the street; after all, you have cut people off as well, on purpose or inadvertently. Forgive the person who made an unkind remark about you. Choose a place to begin. The more you forgive, the less the world can injure you; forgiveness is a soft shield for your soul.

5. In forgiving, include yourself.

Fight against perfectionism. Leave a dropped stitch in the knitting of your life. There will always be more possibilities to get something wrong than to get it right. Allow yourself the latitude of mistakes, without self-punishing. God is supposed to be perfect, not human beings. Have expectations of yourself, but don’t enforce them with a hammer.

The New Year is coming. You have not wasted a single day of the future. So here is your chance to live purposefully. Will you achieve this every day? Of course not (see #5 above). The key resolution is not to triumph or to always succeed. Resolutions of the spirit come down to one thing: in this New Year, grow.

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