We’re currently in the Jewish month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. As we prepare to welcome the new Jewish year 5777, our tradition encourages us to spend this month closely examining our lives – appreciating the good stuff while looking for ways we can grow and change.
As I’ve talked about before, taking the time to really examine our lives is like looking into a three-way mirror – the type you often find in department stores. People generally have one of four reactions when standing before such a mirror.
1. The most common reaction: we’re startled by the part of us that we never knew was there.
2. Dread – if we have the courage to open up our eyes and actually look into the mirror, it’ll force us to look at that part of us we knew was there, but never wanted to acknowledge.
3. We stand before the mirror and see a side of ourselves that makes us happy.
4. We simply see clothing and pay no attention to the body that fills the clothing.
Elul is our time to step before the spiritual three-way mirror. Doing so isn’t easy. Honestly looking at who we’ve become this year will be challenging for many of us. The difficult aspects of our lives that we’ve worked so hard to ignore will be completely visible before the spiritual mirror. We’ll discover attributes or behaviors that we never knew existed and would like to change. And, without a doubt, we’ll be given an incredible opportunity to see what makes us truly special.
So, how do we stand before the spiritual three-way mirror? By performing what our tradition calls Cheshbon HaNefesh, an examination of the soul. Good news! This examination doesn’t require an office visit or a co-pay. It simply involves your time and honesty.
Below, you’ll find the “Cheshbon HaNefesh: End of the Year Exam” that I’ve shared before at this time of year. Some of you have taken it in previous years and have found that your answers differ each time you take it. There are a few new questions this year! Please try to answer the questions this Elul – before Rosh HaShanah which begins on the evening of October 2. 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 5777 in a little more than two weeks. Make the new year be a year of personal growth. Give yourself the gift of the spiritual three-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 haven’t taken care of yourself, what has kept you from doing so and how can you do things differently in the new year?
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? What can you do to repair things?
3. Do you owe anyone an apology? If so, when will you apologize and how will you do it?
4. Have you refused to make amends with someone who apologized to you? Why? Is it worth holding on to the negative feelings that this person fills you with?
5. Have you been financially responsible? If not, what can you do to change this?
6. This year, what was your number one weakness? What caused it? 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 so that you feel differently next year?
8. As this Jewish year ends, what do you regret the most? What caused this regret? Can you fix things? What can you do to not feel this regret next year?
9. What was your greatest accomplishment this year? Have you congratulated yourself for this accomplishment? In general, do you accept praise and compliments? Are you too hard on yourself? What can you do in the year ahead to accept and own the good stuff you bring into this world?
10. What are you afraid of? What can you do to overcome this fear in the new Jewish year?
11. What unfinished business do you have to complete before the Jewish year is done? What is your plan to get this business 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. This year, have you prayed, meditated or done other activities that help you focus and connect deeply with yourself and the world around you? If you haven’t, do you want to? How do you plan on doing this in the new year?
18. Has your cell phone/social media been too important this year? What can you do to change this next year?
19. What is one thing you want to accomplish in the new Jewish year? How will you make this happen?
20. Add any additional thoughts, feelings, etc…..
Good luck standing before the spiritual three-way mirror! If you need some help answering the questions or figuring out how to grow in the new year, let’s talk!