The voice of the shofar is calling and the Days of Awe are here, inspiring in each of us a Cheshbon HaNefesh – examining our deeds in the last year and thinking about making amends and beginning anew. What will we do this year that is better, to really make a new beginning?

The important question is what “new” means. Does it mean that everything we’ve done so far is erased, and we start with a clean “new” page? To where has everything I’ve done vanished? Do my deeds in the past have no more benefit for me, to help me with my “new” beginning?

On the day we are born, the first page of our life journey is written and the inscriptions cannot be deleted like the computer files we send to the Recycle Bin with one click. Every day, and every moment, our life story is continuously recorded. A new beginning is part of the introspective process in which a person takes an honest look at oneself and one’s past. Looking back is necessary in order to go forward. A new beginning is a question of choosing between past and future. The past is what we have already done, both positive and negative, and is accompanied by all the events of our lives, times when we experienced happiness, bliss, pleasure or pain, shame, embarrassment, and the inclination to make the same mistakes in the same situations and with the same people. Thus, when we talk about a new beginning it’s almost like being in the therapist’s treatment room; we investigate the past now, in the present, out of a wish for a better future.

One of the questions arising in the process of the new beginning is: “Why is it so difficult to begin anew?  Why, every time Elul comes around, do we think, perceive, make plans, but don’t always succeed in implementing the new beginning or maintaining the new decision for any length of time?” The reason is that, in every beginning, we, as people, start doing something different from what we used to do. Doing something we are used to is much easier. We don’t have to force ourselves because it’s familiar and we know exactly what we are doing. A beginning means that we start doing something we didn’t do before, to behave differently, and that’s why the beginning is hard.

One of the things that are typical to the beginning of a new year is the process of making resolutions to change, to improve, to stop doing something, to undertake to do something new, etc. Good decisions derive from the ability to keep our eyes on the goal, the reason, and the aim of any new beginning. The new beginning is an internal journey of thinking that concludes with a resolution or undertaking. Usually, two things can help us start something new:

  1. Making a decision to make a change or improve in a certain specific area. We have to be very clear about what the change will be. It must be an addition or upgrade, and sometimes it means stopping something we are already doing.
  2. In order to succeed we must have a good plan that will make it possible to implement the new change, making the new beginning possible. Without a good, clear cut plan of action our decision might not be carried out, or work only in the short term.

It’s worthwhile to remember that a new beginning can’t be all talk. It’s a process that begins with thinking and talking, but the “doing” part can’t be neglected. To begin anew is to give ourselves a chance to improve, to be better – a better parent, a better Yid, a better spouse, etc.  A Jew has the chance to begin anew every day and every minute, but there are also auspicious times to initiate a new beginning. The month of Tishrei is a period of new beginnings and we give each other mutual support in our efforts. This is a wonderful chance to initiate a difficult process that sends us to places in our mind where past meet present and longs for a better future, a place perhaps less easy, less familiar, and more demanding. The advantage of beginning again is that at the beginning stage we are connected to the essence, to the task, to the goal; a new beginning is a new chance.

I suggest looking at “how” to begin again. The time we take to look into our innermost mind is what enables us to start a process aimed towards the future – a new beginning. Let’s take a look at the process of making decisions to begin anew, from the planning stage to the execution stage.


In Lecha Dodi we say “sof maaseh b’machshava techila”. Each action must be preceded by a careful thought process. That is, without planning there is no execution.

How does one plan a new beginning – a decision to improve? There are some questions one should ask oneself:
What kind of decision/undertaking do I want to make? (To add a chumra, to be a better mother, etc.)

Why do I want to make this resolution? (Because I want to get closer to G-d, because I want a better relationship with my children, etc.)

What exactly is the resolution? (I will bring Shabbos in ten minutes earlier; I will read my child a bedtime story three times a week, etc.)

How much time and how many resources do I need to implement this resolution? (I need a week to get organized, I can start tomorrow morning, I need my husband to cooperate and put one child to bed three times a week while I tell the other child a story, I need the family to cooperate so we can bring Shabbos in early, etc.)

How will the plan be executed? (I will speak to my husband on Wednesday; we will gather the children this week and talk about the new arrangements that will enable us to bring Shabbos in early, etc.)

Supervising and Controlling:

Now I am at the implementation stage. I have a plan which I prepared in Stage 1 and now I am implementing it. I carry out my resolution but also look at how I did it and at the consequences of my deeds.

Did I succeed in carrying out my resolution? (How many Shabbosim did I manage to bring in early this month? How many times this week did I tell my child a bedtime story?)

Do I know what I am doing? (Am I angry with the kids on Fridays because they don’t do their chores quickly enough? Is bringing Shabbos in early worth my anger? This week I didn’t manage to shop for Shabbos on Thursday and lost four hours of preparation for Shabbos on Friday. One child was sick and so I didn’t tell my other child a story on Wednesday. What do I do in special situations? Etc.)

Does my behavior make sense? (I make everybody at home stressed out before Shabbos, especially during the winter and I must learn to manage better and not pressure everybody. I argue a lot with my husband because of the resolution to tell my child bedtime stories – this doesn’t make sense and I have to find a different strategy.)

Am I achieving my goal? (Despite the stress and difficulties my family is happy to bring Shabbos in early. I need to learn to be better organized and so I will achieve my purpose better. Perhaps the decision to tell one child bedtime stories needs to be adapted to the needs of my husband and my other child – I am not sure I am achieving my goal, etc.)

Feedback, Examination and Evaluation:

One of the ways to reflect on my new resolutions and get feedback on them is to keep a resolution journal, in which we first write out the plan, and then write about our progress every day or every week – depending on what kind of resolution we made. In the journal you can write in detail what you did towards your goal on each date.

For example: 1 Cheshvan – Today is Tuesday. In the evening I planned the menu for Shabbos and made my shopping list. Or: 3 Cheshvan  – I planned to go shopping for Shabbos today but the children didn’t feel well and we went to the doctor instead. The journal helps us examine our progress in carrying out resolutions. Remember that the goal is to turn the new resolution into a part of our routine because during our life, and especially in Elul and Tishrei, we will always want “to being anew” in one area or another.

Reflecting on this can help us check a few things: Did I succeed in meeting my goals? (In Tishrei I succeeded in bringing in Shabbos early twice. I think I am close to full success. Telling my child a story every evening didn’t work at all in Tishrei; we had many guests and I had a lot of work on Friday nights and Motzaei Shabbos, I fell asleep in the middle of telling the story.)

Am I really undergoing a process of change in following my new resolution? (I really succeeded in bringing Shabbos in early and I think I am nearing meeting all my expectations in this area. As for the bedtime story to my child I am disappointing myself for not carrying out my own resolution.)

What have I done well and can adopt as a permanent part of my behavior? What am I struggling with and how can I improve? (Bringing Shabbos in early taught me to be more efficient and better organized. I plan my menu and shopping on Tuesday, go shopping on Wednesday, cook on Thursday and tidy the house on Friday – and it’s a success. I need to work on the anger and stress I show towards my family on Friday. Perhaps I should be hiring a cleaning lady for Friday morning and fixing on 2:00PM as a deadline for Shabbos preparation, summer or winter. Now I just have to find a cleaning lady.)

The improvements can be reevaluated at the next “checkpoint” we choose – next week, for instance, or next month.

In conclusion, a new beginning is connected to our will to change and improve. It gives us a chance but it is also a way to look at ourselves and our behavior, and at who we would like to be in the future. Remember that new beginnings and new resolutions belong to you only. You can make a new beginning, or a new resolution, only for yourself, not for your spouse or children. However, your new beginning and resolutions can definitely have a positive impact on your relationships with the people in your life.
Good luck with the new beginning you’ve chosen!