We are less than two weeks away from the Jewish month of Elul which begins on August 7th. As Elul is the last month of the Jewish year 5773, we are encouraged to use this time to closely examine our lives. Some have compared this self-examination process to looking into a 3-way mirror – the type you often find in department stores. People generally have one of four reactions when standing before such a mirror. Probably, the most common reaction: we are startled by the part of us that we never knew was there. Reaction two: dread – if we have the courage to open up our eyes and actually look into the mirror, it will force us to look at that part of us we knew was there, but never wanted to acknowledge. Reaction three: we stand before the mirror and see a side of ourselves that makes us happy. Finally, we might stand before the mirror and simply see clothing and pay no attention to the body that fills the clothing.
I hope that each of us has the courage to stand before a spiritual 3-way mirror this Elul. As we do so, I pray that none of us ignores the soul (our essence) that fills our body. Taking a step back and honestly looking at who we have become will be challenging for many of us. The difficult aspects of our lives that we have worked very hard to ignore will be completely visible before the spiritual mirror. We will discover attributes or behaviors that we never knew existed and would like to change. And, without a doubt, we will be given an incredible opportunity to see what makes us truly special – holy.
How do you stand before the spiritual 3-way mirror? By performing Chesbon HaNefesh, an examination of the soul. Good news, such an exam does not require an office visit or a co-pay. It simply involves your time and honesty.
Below, you will find the “Cheshbon HaNefesh: End of the Year Exam” that I often share at this time of year. Take it during the month of Elul. You don’t have to share your answers with anyone. Study your answers as they are the spiritual mirror. Learn from them. Embrace what you love. Commit to changing what you can as you enter the new Jewish year 5774. Make the new year, which begins with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, a year of personal growth. Give yourself the gift of the spiritual 3-way mirror.
1. Have you taken care of yourself this year? Did you get a physical, go the gym on a regular basis, eat well, give yourself time to relax and reflect? If you have not taken care of yourself, what has kept you from doing so?
2. Have you taken care of the important people in your life? How have you treated your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, children, parents, siblings, friends, extended family, colleagues, etc. this year? Would you like to change anything? Are there relationships in your life that need improving?
3. Do you owe anyone an apology? If so, when will you apologize?
4. Have you refused to make amends with someone who apologized to you? Why?
5. Have you been financially responsible? If not, what can you do to change this?
6. This year, what was your number one weakness? How can you get over it?
7. Most of the time you feel________________(fill in the blank). Do you like the answer? If not, what can you change?
8. As this Jewish year ends, what do you regret the most? What can you do to not feel this way next year?
9. As this Jewish year ends, what are you most proud of? Have you congratulated yourself? Do you accept praise and compliments? Are you too hard on yourself?
10. What are you afraid of? What can you do to overcome this fear?
11. What unfinished business do you have to complete before the Jewish year is done?
12. Overall, are you happy with your life? If not, what do you want to see change this upcoming year? List three ways you can make these changes.
13. Have you given tzedakah (charity)? Do you volunteer your time to help others? Do you have a “cause”? If you answered “no” to any of these things, would you like the answer to be “yes”? Why?
14. Have you taken the time to explore your spirituality? If so, what have you learned?
15. How do you feel about God? Are you happy with your answer? If not, what can you do to make your answer different next year?
16. If you believe in God, have you been angry or upset with God this year? Have you expressed your feelings? If not, why?
17. Have you prayed this year?
18. What is one thing you want to accomplish in the new Jewish year?
-Additional thoughts, feelings, etc…..
Good luck! If you need some help, please let me know!