By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

It was an ordinary day in Judge Mindy Glazer’s Miami-Dade courtroom when forty-nine-year-old Arthur Booth appeared before her for his bond hearing. He had been arrested the previous day for breaking into a home, stealing a car, and running from police. He caused two accidents before crashing the stolen car and being arrested.

What happened next was incredible. My description cannot even do it justice; I encourage you after Yom Tov to see it for yourself. As she shuffled papers on her desk, Judge Glazer turned to Booth and said, “I have a question for you — did you go to Nautilus (middle school)?” Booth looked up at her, recognized her, then covered his face with both hands and, overwhelmed with emotion, cried “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” seven times.

The judge then said to him, “I’m sorry to see you here. I always wondered what happened to you.“ She turned to the court and continued, “This was the nicest kid in middle school. He was the best kid. I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened.” Glazer set his bond at $43,000 and closed the hearing by saying, “Good luck to you sir,” she said. “I hope you are able to come out of this okay and just lead a lawful life.”

Booth’s cousin was interviewed by the news right after the hearing and was asked why she thought he was so emotional. She answered, “He probably was thinking, ‘Wow, I had those opportunities and those abilities. That should have been me up there… He was overwhelmed with emotion because he was filled with remorse and the thoughts of what could have been.”

“Ha’yom haras olam, ha’yom ya’amid ba’mishpat kol yetzurei olamim… Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment.” This morning, like Booth, we appear before the Judge who recognizes us, who knows us since our childhood and beyond. Like Booth, as we appear before the Judge of Judges, we are overwhelmed with a sense of what could have been. This morning, as we confront the reality of the many mistakes we have made, the poor judgment we have shown, the self-destructive behavior we have engaged in, the opportunities we have wasted and the potential we have not realized, we are filled with a profound sense of remorse, an intense regret, and an acute awareness of who we could be.

Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, once said, “Everybody wants to change this world; nobody wants to change themselves.” I disagree. I think we do want to change. We want to become the people we were meant to be, the people we are capable of being. Many of just don’t know how.

Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi writes in one of his poems: “The world at large is a prison and every man is a prisoner.” We often feel trapped, confined by the self-imposed limitations we set on ourselves or by the habits, practices and behaviors that we think we cannot break out of or change. According to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, as many as 40% of our daily activities are driven by habit.

Will we be late or on time, will we get angry or keep our cool, will we eat healthy or let ourselves go, will we be distracted by technology or disconnect, will we make it to minyan or daven at home or not daven at all, will we say a beracha with kavanabefore we eat or when we come out of the bathroom, say it in a meaningless way, or not say it at all – all of these and many more have been programmed into our daily lives such that we are practically on autopilot. We feel imprisoned and trapped by the habits we have formed and the momentum that carries our lives forward…

A plan, a resolution, has to be articulated to be serious. We can put it down on paper, set it as a reminder in our phone or simply repeat it out loud to ourselves over and over but it isn’t real, it is just a wish, not a resolution unless it is formally verbalized, articulated or recorded in a way that will make us more likely to follow through.

Share your kabbalah, your resolution, and plan with your spouse, a family member, or a trusted friend. Ask them to help you formulate a plan and hold you accountable to your commitment.

Leadership expert Robin Sharma once said, “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Let’s not sit Rosh Hashana after Rosh Hashana and fill our hearts and minds with wishes that will dissipate as quickly as the sound of shofar. Let’s not sit before the Judge who knew us since we are born and knows what we are capable of, crying because of the missed opportunities and what we could have been. Today, right now, like Yosef, let’s walk out of prison and set ourselves free to become the people we know we can be.

This year, when people ask you how was your Rosh Hashana – tell them, I am not sure yet, I will let you know in six months after I implement my plan.

Excerpted from Rabbi Goldberg’s Rosh Hashana derasha

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