Three Little Words- Kol Nidre 5779

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Those 3 little words might be “I love you.”  That’s what I always thought of when I heard the phrase, 3 little words.  Three little words that are magic, that make our hearts sing.  And then,  Sue Coore gave me an article by Chris Brogan, “My 3 Words for 2016,” and my head began to spin.  Brogan’s thesis, which works for Rosh HaShanah as much as it does for New Year’s Eve, is that challenging ourselves with just 3 words to guide us in the coming year, is more powerful and effective than making resolutions.  He describes his own process as follows, “Make the words such that they influence your choice of actions, encourage you to decide in favor of your goals, and guide you towards lasting results that you want to experience throughout the year.”  He suggests that we, “Write these words down. Post them everywhere. Schedule them to pop up in your calendar. And use these words as part of your decision-making process every day.”[1]  Three little words to frame our new year.

Pirke Avot (1:2) says that the entire world stands on only 3 things- on Torah, or, we might say, lifelong learning; on worship, which we might understand as having a sense of awe or holiness; and gemilut chasadim, loving acts of kindness.  If we were to adopt the perspective of Pirke Avot, our 3 little words as we enter 5779 might be- learning, holiness, and kindness.  Three very worthy thoughts.  Continuing to learn is a fundamental Jewish value.  Developing and maintaining a sense of awe leads to gratitude and happiness.  And community is impossible without devotion to caring for each other.  If we could commit ourselves to learning, holiness, and kindness- dayenu!

When my daughter Sarah graduated from medical school, Dr. Mitchell Shub addressed the class.  He emphasized 3 things to the newly minted doctors- perseverance, kindness, and honesty.  Perseverance is necessary in life.  We get knocked down, we get sidetracked, and we need to find the resources within to keep going.  Kindness.  Henry James said it best, Three things are important in life:  the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.”  Honesty- aha!  What a beautiful world it would be if only people were honest.  Can you imagine throwing out all of your keys and deleting all of your passwords because you could rely on the honesty of others?  It would be paradise!  Perseverance, kindness, and honesty- three little words.

Throughout this past year Temple Chai hosted several discussion groups on the theme of “Wise Aging.”  We explored life review and the balance between the physical and the spiritual as we get older.  We talked about how relationships evolve and how we deal with loss.  In one conversation, Joel Sherman shared that his guiding principles are happiness, hope, and gratitude.  Happiness can be a conscious decision that we make each day, to embrace happiness as our baseline unless there is a very good reason to be UNhappy.  Too often we confuse happiness with fun, and we wait for fun activities to bring happiness to our lives, when we can just be happy to be alive.  Gratitude is the foundation of happiness.  When we truly appreciate all of the blessings in our lives, a deep and profound joy emerges.  And hope- the national anthem of the Jewish people, HaTikvah- the hope.  When times are tough, it is hope that sustains us both individually and as a community.  Happiness, gratitude, hope- 3 little words.

The Torah says, “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha;” it’s 3 words in Hebrew, a bit more in English- love your neighbor as yourself. Rabbi Akiva identified this as the most important principle in the Torah.  Brogan advises against choosing a phrase, though.  He writes that (that) “kind of eats the power potential of what you can do with the words.  (For example), ‘Do the work’ pretty much eats up a lot of room compared to ‘work,’ which gets the same accomplished.”  If you were going to pick a phrase, though, to guide your year, you won’t go wrong with “V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha- love your neighbor as yourself.”  Three little words that could also change the world if we all took them on as our call to action.

Brogan began this process in 2006, with Ask, Do, Share. “In 2006, my three words were “Ask. Do. Share.” “Everything I did,” he writes,  “I tried to filter through the mindset of asking people for help, or asking if I could help them. Doing seems self-explanatory. Sharing was making sure that I shared opportunities with others, that I shared my learning with you, and that I kept myself open to sharing the possibilities.”  He reports that “They prompted me to:

  • Ask more questions where I didn’t know.
  • Ask if I could help.
  • Ask FOR help.
  • Do more instead of plan more.
  • Share what I learned.
  • Share great people’s work.”[2]

Brogan shared his partner, Rob Hatch’s, great work, Rob’s 3 words for 2013- Systems, Service, and Now. “Systems – If 2012 revealed anything to me, it was the power of building a System for even the most simple aspects of my life. Systems are simply habits that I have borrowed, hacked, or designed to enable me to accomplish a goal, complete a project, or simply structure my life or work. Systems give me time, free me from worry, allow me to focus and present. They also serve as platforms for risk taking. Service – Service is a reminder to both be of service to others and that my actions should serve my goals. Now – Whatever my hopes, dreams or goals may be, what matters is what I do now. Whether that is doing the work in front of me or being present for the people I’m with. Now matters.”[3]  Systems, Service, Now.  Brogan and his partner engage the three words strategy mostly in a business context.  I might translate that into more comfortable and familiar religious language.

What he calls systems I might call rituals. Rituals are, indeed, a way to provide structure and meaning to our lives, not to mention ways to keep our lives in order.  Service, tikkun olam, is clearly a fundamental Jewish value.  We have a mandate to perform loving acts of kindness and to leave the world a better place than we found it.  Combined with now, I think of Hillel’s 3-part teaching, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, what am I?  And, if not now, when?”[4]

Brogan picked up on the theme of ritual this year, 2018.  His 3 words- Ritual, Execute, Value.   “Ritual – I’ve fallen away from developing habits and operational tempo in my days. I need to build back rituals and make them the guts of how I structure my life and living. This also reminds me to place great strength and power into the simple matters of life, like choosing what I eat and drink, and ensuring that I treat my life as if I’m making moments instead of just clicking off hours.  Execute – Push the button. Make something happen. Take action. I’ve felt a bit sluggish in 2017. Time to power back up.  Execute is a reminder to move and take action and do something instead of just think about it. Have the difficult conversations.   Value – Create value. Make sure my time is dedicated to creating value. Build more and more value for myself and others. Help companies see the value in the projects I intend to help them execute in 2018. That’s the big plan. Be clear that I value myself more.”[5]  Ritual, execute, value- 3 pretty creative little words!

So, by now I hope that you’re thinking about your 3 words for 5779. What 3 words might you embrace to guide this new year of life?  Take a few minutes and brainstorm with the folks around you, and then I’ll share my 3 words.

Let me conclude with my 3 words for 5779- Flourish, Savor, Care. Flourish was inspired, of all things, by a sign in the British Airways jetway, a sign that read, “Flourish- whatever the conditions.”  There are certainly situations in life in which it is next to impossible to flourish, yet, they are, thankfully, few and far between.  I am hoping that “flourish” will inspire me to look at every single day as an opportunity to grow and to blossom, to avoid the sense of stagnation that can sometimes plague us.  Dictionary definitions of flourish include thriving in a healthy environment, to be vigorous and to grow luxuriantly.  In the year ahead, I aspire to flourish!

I see flourish as the broad stroke, and savor as one way to appreciate that flourishing. To savor means enjoying the big things in life, and the little things, with deep pleasure and gratitude.  I savor the moments at the end of the day, drinking a glass of wine and enjoying the companionship of my beloved as we watch the glorious Arizona sunset.  I savor the time with my children and grandchildren, in awe at every new word and every new skill.    “When you savor something,” according to,  “you enjoy it so much that you want to make it last forever. With that in mind, savor carries a connotation of doing something slowly.”  Rabbi Chizkiah taught that, “A person will have to answer for everything that his eye beheld and he did not consume” [6]  I intend to consume and savor as much as possible in 5779.

Care is my third watchword. Flourish and Savor are personal.  I don’t want this year to be a year of selfishness, so retaining and acting on a genuine sense of caring is vital.  As a rabbi, I am exposed to so much pain and hardship and suffering.  Part of honoring others is to help to carry their burdens, to be supportive and empathetic, to listen with an open heart and a caring presence.  I pray that I will never forget that the goal of caring for others is the essence of this holy work, and I might add, this holy life.  “To make a difference in someone’s life,” wrote Mandy Hale, “you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful or perfect. you just have to care.”  “People don’t care how much you know,” it has wisely been noted, “until they know how much you care.”

I put these words on my calendar so that they will pop up regularly throughout the year as reminders to help me re-center and re-focus.

Flourish, Savor, Care- my 3 little words for 5779. What will yours be?







[4] Pirke Avot 1:14


[6] Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12

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