We are in the midst of the Jewish month of Elul, the month that ends the Jewish year. As we prepare for the new Jewish year, which begins on Monday evening, September 6, we’re encouraged to use the days of Elul to step back and examine our lives, and in doing so, appreciate, reflect upon and grow from the highs, the lows and the in-betweens that made up the year that is coming to a close.
We go about examining our lives by performing what our tradition refers to as Chesbon HaNefesh, an examination of the soul. As many of you know, each year at this time, I share some questions (yes, there are some new ones this year!) that can help you examine your soul. Consider them your end of the Jewish year exam! You don’t have to share your answers with anyone, but I do encourage you to study your answers. They will help guide you in the new Jewish year. Learn from your answers. As you go about answering the questions below, take time to embrace what you love about yourself. At the same time, please don’t be too hard on yourself – appreciate that some of your imperfections are blessings. Also, recognize that with some work, you have the ability to evolve! This evolution is what Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are all about. I encourage you to give yourself a gift – take this exam!
End Of The Jewish Year Exam
- Have you taken care of yourself this year? Did you get a physical, go to the gym on a regular basis, eat well, give yourself time to relax and reflect? If you are eligible, have you gotten your COVID vaccine/booster and taken other cautions to protect yourself during the pandemic? Have you worn your mask? Is self-care something you take seriously? If you have not taken care of yourself, what has kept you from doing so?
- 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?
- Do you owe anyone an apology? If so, when will you apologize?
- Have you refused to make amends with someone who apologized to you? Why?
- Have you been financially responsible? If not, what can you do to change this?
- This year, what was your number one weakness? How can you overcome it in the new year?
- Most of the time you feel________________(fill in the blank). Do you like the answer? If not, what can you change?
- As this Jewish year ends, what do you regret the most? What can you do not to feel this way next year?
- 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?
- What are you afraid of? What can you do to overcome this fear?
- Have you kept yourself from expressing how upset, angry, disappointed you are with someone or something? Why? What’s holding you back? Could expressing your emotions be healthy for all involved?
- What unfinished business do you have to complete before the Jewish year is done?
- Have you tried to control things in your life that are simply not controllable? If so, are you willing to give up a little control in the new year? How so? How does this make you feel?
- 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.
- 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?
- Have you taken the time to explore your spirituality? Have you prayed/meditated this year? If so, what have you learned?
- 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? If you believe in God, have you been angry or upset with God this year? Have you expressed your feelings? If not, why?
- What is one thing you want to accomplish in the new Jewish year?
- During the pandemic, it has been easy to focus on the negative things in life. What are three silver linings you discovered during the pandemic? What do these silver linings teach you?
- As the pandemic continues to challenge us all, it is too easy to feel overwhelmed and frightened. While social distancing and masks are important right now (as are vaccinations and other health measures), relationships and community remain essential, What are you doing to safely and meaningfully connect with others? If your answer is “nothing,” what can you do to change this? If you are connecting with others, what can you do this right now, despite the pandemic, to safely and meaningfully strengthen your connections?
I really hope these questions are helpful. While I can’t answer them for you, if your answers leave you scratching your head, I’m here to talk things through.