During this time in the Jewish year, it is traditional for Jews to perform a Heshbon Hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. This is time to realistically and honestly look inwards and acknowledge where we have fallen short this past year. The Rabbis carefully orchestrated this practice. They did not intend for us to plunge into this important time without preparation, but built ever-intensifying stages, which remind us that the critical Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, are coming.
Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul we sound the shofar. In the days before Rosh Hashana we gather for penitential prayers, selichot. During the Ten Days of Repentance–the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur–we add special requests for life and blessing to our prayers. All these are designed as a “spiritual warm-up.”
Yet, most of us never achieve a stage of wonderment with all this build-up. Most of us show up for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and don’t see any spiritual fireworks. As the scholar Dr. Deborah Lipstadt put it: “We are like people who have been told that the last scene of Hamlet is the most riveting and only show up for that scene. We fail to understand what the fuss is about. We parachute into the Yamim Noraim. This period is the April 15th of the Jewish year, yet I spend more time preparing my taxes than preparing my soul.”
The Hafetz Hayim says we would never appear before a king without thinking through precisely what we were going to say, yet most of us, if we go to synagogue, show up there, not having given the Yamim Noraim consistent and serious thought. At AVODAH, we spend much of the time leading up to Yamin Noraim preparing for our soon-to-be Corps members and getting ready for our new year. We understand that it is difficult to focus on our Heshbon Hanefesh with so many aspects of our lives pulling us in so many directions.
This year, try to find some time for your own personal Heshbon Hanefesh, making it meaningful for yourself. For some, that may mean spending more time alone, reflecting and focusing on self-improvement. For others, that may mean participating in Reboot’s 10Q, a program that e-mails you one important question a day during the Yamim Noraim. Performing Heshbon Hanefesh can also include looking back on how you’ve contributed to others this past year and getting involved in an organization or community that is close to you in order to work for social change and help make our world better for next year.
However you perform a Heshbon Hanefesh this year, AVODAH wishes you and your loved ones a Shana Tova U’Mituka, a Good and Sweet New Year.