April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Many times, you’ll be in a place and they’ll want to see who is interested in something. It may be a vote for what to order for lunch, it may be asking people to attend a meeting or help form a minyan, but often they use the same phrase: By a show of hands. In other words, they ask people to raise their hands to show their commitment to the project or topic at hand, and this is actually more significant than you might realize.

For example, if someone says, “We’re trying to make a special minyan tomorrow morning because Mr. So-and-so has yahrtzeit. Who can attend? Please raise your hand.” Yes, they are trying to count how many people there are for the minyan but if people just call out, “We have more than ten,” the questioner may still ask people to raise their hands. Why? Because he understands what raising the hand means.

First of all, it makes the person identifiable. If Abe raises his hand and them doesn’t show up, he knows that he may get a phone call looking for him. If Joe raises his hand and then is tempted to sleep in the next day, the fact that he wants to keep his word may get him out of bed. Nobody wants to be seen as a liar or at least someone who is lax in his promises, so there’s honor at stake. That’s why the hand-raise is more effective than a simple voice vote.

There’s another reason as well. When we choose to do something good, it may be because we’re inspired, moved by emotion, or simply think it’s the right thing to do. However, as I’ve often said, it’s easy to tell the difference between a good impulse and a bad impulse: The good impulses don’t last nearly as long. So how can we extend their shelf-life?

The way to do it is by taking action immediately. That cements the impulse into our beings and makes it easier to carry on. For example, if someone hears an appeal and is inspired to contribute, he can pull out a check and start filling it in even before he knows the name of the organization. If he doesn’t have a check, he can pull out a quarter and tell himself, “This is part of what I’m going to give.”

Even if it’s not money-related, one can use tzedaka as a means of solidifying his intent. If he is inspired to be more considerate, or to learn more, he can immediately put some money in tzedaka or pull out a chumash and learn a posuk in order to start the process of whatever he is planning to do.

By taking action, he is beginning the deed and is more likely to continue. That’s why we ask for a show of hands. By stretching out one’s arm, he is already doing something to show he wants to do more. It shows that he’s not going to sit back and do nothing. When he raises his hand for the minyan, it’s the first step in heading to the shul.

We know that during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, the ten days of penitence from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur, there is a custom to be more stringent in certain laws than one is the rest of the year. Far from being a false advertisement for what he plans to do after Yom Kippur, trying to “fool” HaShem that he is a bigger tzaddik than he really is, these stringencies are the equivalent of raising one’s hand and saying, “I’m doing something to start the process of heading down the road to self-improvement.”

We remind ourselves that we’re making a statement and we want to be people of our word and continue, and we are also taking action, like lighting the fuse on a firecracker, ensuring that we get the most bang for our behavioral buck. So, who’s with me that this year is one in which we’re going to make some changes that stick and come out better than we were before? Can I get a show of hands?

Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. E-mail [email protected] and put Subscribe in the subject. © 2014 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

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