Rabbis Without Borders
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Rosh Hashanah is a time for many things. Reflection. Spiritual rejuvenation. Eating large meals with family and friends. And making New Year’s resolutions.
New Year’s resolutions are a tricky business. On the one hand, we make them because we aspire to be better versions of ourselves. We yearn to become the individuals we know we can be but have not yet become. We want to do better, to be better, to become our own self-help narratives.
But we also know that we will fail to keep most of our NY resolutions. Year in and year out, we will fail to achieve our lofty goals for ourselves. Why? I think at least part of the reason is that our resolutions are disconnected from the reality of our lives. They are aspirations detached from the hard work it takes to bring them to fruition. If it was simple to drop 10 pounds then we all could be fashion models. But it takes constant dedication, weeks of sweating it out at the gym, saying no to those delicious desserts, and on and on. And that’s one of the easy resolutions. Improving our relationships with loved ones or recalibrating our work-life balance, to name just two others, require painful self-analysis, emotional sacrifice, and on and on.
But on the other hand, we also don’t want to give up on making NY resolutions. We want to believe in the potential of transformation. Indeed, the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur practically begs us to effectuate teshuvah by adjusting our thoughts and actions. We want to make our process of “cheshbon hanefesh,” an accounting of the soul, more than just an exercise in self-flagellation. We want the New Year to be a catalyst for change.
So what kind of resolutions make sense for 5777? Here is but one of many worthwhile endeavors: Go cage-free! Egg-laying hens endure some of the worst abuses in factory farming — they are packed so tightly in a tiny wire cage that they cannot move or even spread their wings. A hen spends her entire life in a meager amount of space, smaller than a piece sheet of printer paper or an iPad! The impact is devastating on hens, forcing them to endure injuries, disease, and extreme mental and emotional distress. The Jewish principle of “tza’ar ba’alei chayim” demands that we be sensitive to the welfare of animals. Perpetuating the mistreatment of farmed animals like these laying hens surely violates the value of compassion expressed in myriad stories and teachings throughout Jewish text and tradition. And all it takes to actualize these Jewish values, to realize this New Year’s resolution, is to buy eggs labeled as cage-free at the grocery store. Just look for egg cartons labeled “USDA Certified Organic,” which ensures cage-free conditions and the possibility of outdoor access. (Or, if you want to guarantee an even higher level of animal welfare, purchase eggs labeled as “Animal Welfare Approved” or “Certified Humane”).
We are already starting to see a sea-change in the effort to expand cage-free egg sourcing in America. Four states have already passed legislation phasing out the use of cruel battery cages, and Massachusetts has an initiative on the ballot this November to ban all sales of eggs from caged hens, which could have a ripple effect across the country.
Many major companies are switching to 100% cage-free eggs, including Costco, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.
How great would it be if the Jewish community — both our individuals and our institutions (shuls, JCCs, etc.) was at the vanguard of such a simple yet important movement! And since we know that New Year’s resolutions go best when done in fellowship rather than alone, there is a pledge you can take on Hazon’s website to be part of this growing Jewish cage-free movement!
So I encourage all of us to make a few, achievable New Year’s Resolutions this year. Let’s not miss out on the power of personal transformation, but let’s also be tactical about what we really can achieve. Only then will our resolutions, for this year and beyond, have a chance of succeeding. May your resolutions for 5777 find success in helping you become the person you aspire to be.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.