HMS-20: Preparing for the High Holy Days I: Teshuva

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

September 1, 2003 – Number 20

Preparing for the High Holy Days I: Teshuva

When the Hebrew month of Elul begins, the last month before Rosh Hashana, the Shofar is sounded every morning at the end of the Shacharit service. Moses Maimonides, compares this sounding of the Shofar as an alarm clock, waking us up from our slumber to remind us that time is passing us by and the time we have left in this world is ticking away. Time is the most perishable object in the world. As one year winds to a close and another is about to begin, we need to take a look at our lives. Who are we? Where are we going? Who and what is important to us? How did we get so far off the path we have chosen and how can we return to where we belong? These are the questions that rise to the surface as the Shofar is blown in Elul.
The secular world my celebrate the New Year with noise and celebration, but Jews mark the change of the year with reflection and repentance. This is a multi-part task that will not only occupy our lives for the month of Elul but for most of the next month, Tishrei, as well.
The first thing we need to do is to perform what is known as Heshbone HaNefesh, the accounting of our souls. We need to look back at our lives before we can look ahead. We need to know exactly where we are standing so we can know where we have to go. What good is the map of the mall that tells us where every store can be found if there is no spot on the map that says “You are Here”? Where are we in our lives. When we started out in life we had hopes and dreams of what we wanted to accomplish in life. We had a vision of what a successful life would be like. Now as we end another year, we need to take account of how we are doing. Are we still on track or have we strayed from our course?
Straying is so very easy to do. We are easily distracted by the glitter and glamour that distracts us in life. We have a sense of what G-d has called us to do, but we are distracted from the task by the many false treasures that beckon to us. We decide that we are content with less rather than reach for the full reward. And now, the short term gratification has taken us far from where we ought to be. The month of Elul is the time to swing back on the proper path.
Those who depend on a 12 step program to overcome their addiction easily recognize this accounting of the soul. The first step they must pass is to take a full and fearless accounting of their actions as a prelude to taking responsibility for their situation. This is good advice for all of us. We need to take responsibility for our actions that have brought us to where we are in life. And if thing need to be changed, than we will be the ones who will have to make the changes. This week let us all take a full and fearless assessment of our lives, a true Heshbone Hanefesh, with the plan to fix whatever went wrong and to make the decisions that will put our lives back on track.

Next week: Preparing for the High Holy Days II: Forgive and Forget

B. Horowiz asks:
My stepfather’s brother passed away this week. The two rabbis who were conducting the memorial services told my stepfather that he only needs to say kaddish for 30 days, since the deceased was his sibling. The deceased’s wife received similar instructions; however, the children of the deceased were told that they should say kaddish for 11 months.
Rabbi replies:
Jewish Law reflects a difference between the love of a child for a parent and the love that we have for others in our lives. Basically we choose those who will receive our love except in the case of parents. We don’t get to pick our parents, we love them because they gave us life and nurtured us with unconditional love. The rules of mourners are extended for parents and not for others. It is the sign of the difference between our relationship with our parents and our other relationships. Please remember, however, that while Judaism does not recommend excessive mourning, one is still able to mourn longer in cases where the love and commitment are deeper. Just because we are not required to mourn the year, does not mean that we are forbidden to do so if we choose.

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