The Rabbi's Study

Which Is More Important?

Once, one of the wise men of Chelm asked their illustrious rabbi: Which is more important, rabbi, the sun or the moon? The rabbi responded: This is a very foolish question for such a wise man. The answer is self-evident, is it not? Clearly the moon is more important than the sun – it shines light at night when we really need it! What is the use of the sun which shines in broad daylight?

Or perhaps we can understand it this way: which is more important for considering how to continue to evolve into being our best selves, the High Holy Days or the rest of the year? Clearly the High Holy Days, when we stand in prayer and focus on teshuvah is more important, because the rest of the year we typically don’t think about those things at all!

So, the real question becomes, how do we take from the experience of the recently passed High Holy Day experience and bring those moments of awareness and self-reflection into our everyday lives? How do we take from the contemplativeness and newness of Rosh Hashanah, the humility and honesty of Yom Kippur, the vulnerability and joy of Sukkot, the retrospection and hopefulness of Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah, and find daily tools to engage in self-evolution?

One component of what makes the holiday season meaningful and useful is that we actually take the time, even if just for a few hours, to step out of our day-to-day lives and to intentionally focus. So here is a simple suggestion you can do every day of 5779 which not only has the potential to have a significant impact on your experience of joy and contentment, but also could possibly impact your overall sense of flourishing and even longevity.

Take a vacation every single day. That’s right: take a daily vacation. Simple things, like taking a pleasant walk, enjoying a warm bath, catching up with an old friend, reading poetry or great literature, listening to relaxing music, having a 15-minute dance party (my personal favorite), sitting in meditation – the possibilities are endless. Choose a different daily vacation each day. Turn off the smartphone, the tv, the radio, and whatever else is distracting you, and fully delve into your vacation without stress or worry. Notice the sensations and emotions you’re experiencing while on your daily vacation. At the end of your daily vacation, plan the next day’s vacation. At the end of the day, before bed, spend a few minutes reflecting on the positive emotions you experienced during your vacation; write them down if that is useful. And, at the end of the week on each Shabbat take up to 10- 15 minutes to go over the mental or written list of positive emotions you experienced throughout your previous week’s daily vacations.

Feeling positive and accomplished, according to both psychologists and neuroscientists, is an essential component of the evolution of self. While historically most psychologists and philosophers focused on pleasure and meaning, in recent years there has been an increased emphasis backed by neuroscience of the significance of commitment and participation in life.

In our over-worked, over-scheduled, over-stimulated society, we owe it to ourselves to claim time each day to commit ourselves to be present in life. The work of preparing for 5780 begins now, and as a first step, take a vacation!

To learn more about the neuroscience of happiness, check out this article and this video.

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Check out the "Rabbi's Study" archive for Rabbi Goldstein's previous posts.