The Secret to Having a Good Year

Yael Eckstein  |  November 9, 2020

Magda, Jewish widow who is alone except for Fellowship food delivery
Magda Goldstein, 67-year-old childless widow, beneficiary of Lev Chash soup kitchen in Haifa, Michael Seiler (IFCJ staff) wearing branded logo tshirt sits near branded logo food box, unpack, Magda stands near, white shirt, black pants, glasses, wearing mask, summer clothing

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. — Genesis 23:1

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” from Genesis 23:1—25:18.

The year 2020 has received quite a bad reputation. Mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also because of a variety of other difficulties that have challenged us and our way of life, many are calling this a “bad” year. But I say that the jury is still out.

We already have seen many good things come out of this year’s challenges. The world was forced to advance quickly in the areas of online education and virtual medical care, creating countless opportunities for those who are homebound or confined to a particular place for any reason. We have seen many companies and organizations learn to work together remotely from home, creating the possibility of more humane work-life balance in the future. There are endless stories of kindness and of people coming together for the sake of helping others.

Clearly, whether this year goes down in history as a good year or a bad one will depend largely on what we focus on and how we might use the lessons learned in order to create a better future.

This week’s Torah reading begins by telling us that Sarah lived to be 127 years old. Even though Sarah was painfully barren for most of her life, was kidnapped twice, and had to deal with the difficult personalities of Hagar and Ishmael in her home, the Jewish sages commented that every year of Sarah’s life was a good year.

How is that possible? The sages explained that there is only one criterion by which we judge any year, or any day for that matter: How much did we grow? The secret to Sarah always having a good year was that she grew from every challenge and constantly evolved into a better person.

Life is for changing and improving. It is for learning and growing. Easy or hard, fun or boring, every day is measured by the degree to which we are different than the day before it. Sarah knew the secret to having a good year was to learn from everything and everyone who came her way. By the truest standards of living, she met the highest standards possible.

In the same way, we can choose to live a good life and have a good year every year. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose to grow and learn from everything that comes our way.

Your Turn:

In the comments below, share one lesson that you have learned, or one way you have grown, because of a challenge you faced this year.

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