Shalom September! It’s the beginning of the school year, and of course, on every rabbi’s mind, the High Holy Days! Except, not this time. This is one of those rare years where Rosh HaShanah doesn’t begin until… October! Wow, I can procrastinate on preparations for a few more weeks! But maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should take advantage of that extra time, in the midst of a few weeks of regular non-summer-time life, to prepare myself personally and spiritually and engage in cheshbon hanefesh (literally, soul accounting).
Having a few extra weeks with no High Holy Days, while at the same time being in that period where the High Holy Days feel so very present, is a rare opportunity for us to have a significant amount of time to do the serious and necessary
efforts of soul searching.
Why can’t I put off this hard work of finding those times in my life when I missed the mark? I know I should reflect every day and be better for the next, but sometimes admitting to myself that I was nasty and brutish, or simply less than perfect, is a really self-humbling task that falls perfectly into my procrastination box.
A great rabbi of the Talmud (Eliezer) once said that a person only needs to repent one day before their death. Everyone said “Great, I can put it off.” And then, his students clued in. “Does anyone actually know when they’re going to die? It could be any day!” Exactly. Repent and fix ourselves up every day before that potential moment where we meet our mortal limits.
Here are a few ideas for engaging in cheshbon hanefesh:
- At the end of each day, or week, grab a notepad (or open a note app) and write down everything you can think of that you would
either (a) like to do better the next time, or for which (b) you ought to apologize. Follow through on (a) or (b) as soon as you can.
- Sign up for a class at a local college or studio or the Temple for something you’ve been aching to learn but couldn’t find the time.
- Write down your life dreams for one month from now, one year from now, ten years from now, and fifty years from now. Have you succeeded in bringing yourself closer to each of these dreams this year? Yes? How can you improve for the next year? No? What needs to be changed in your life?
- Think about how you handle your stress. Do you bury it deep inside, bring it up in therapy, find a way to ignore it, or do you release it in a healthy way? Can you find a better way to deal with your stress? Perhaps, can you find a way to eliminate or moderate its source?
- Take responsibility for everything. Become really good at saying sorry. Even if you’re not sure that it’s your fault. It’s amazing how much doing so will improve your relationship and outlook with your loved ones.
- Call or write a letter to someone you care for to whom you haven’t had a chance to call or write in as long as you can remember. Rebuild that relational bridge, and bring some more love back into your life.
Let’s take advantage of this extra time and be ready for the New Year in wholeness. Happy September.
Printed in the September 2016 edition of Temple Emanu-El’s Kolaynu.