The High Holy Day season is upon us: Summer is coming to an end, the school year has arrived. We start routines anew, and the Jewish calendar invites us to begin this new year with intention. This is the season of cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of the soul.
As we enter this season, we offer you this guide. The season of cheshbon hanefesh can feel intimidating: who really wants to take a deep look at how we might change? Honest introspection is hard work! Plus, the whole world is filled with opportunities to explore how we “don’t measure up,” and with reminders of the pressing work that we must do to build a more equitable country.
Yet, in order to effectively move forward, we have the collective opportunity to look at where we have been. Though this guide is meant for individual use, we can take comfort knowing that we are held by the Jewish calendar, by years of accumulated Jewish wisdom, and by the knowledge that somewhere - both here in Westchester, and throughout the world – there are other members of our community looking inward, too.
How do I use this guide?
Great question !
Offering #1: ELUL - Reflections in Love
Consider: The High Holy Day season begins with the month of Elul, 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.
Tradition teaches that Elul, written in Hebrew as אלול, is an acronym of the phrase אני לדודי ודודי לי Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, from the Song of Songs (6:3), meaning “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”
The language of belovedness adds another dimension to love, implying an active sense of protection, deep affection, and generosity toward the subject. We may love plenty of people, ideas, and things, but we only treat a select few as beloved.
Our task this and every High Holy Day season is to face the exercise of cheshbon hanefesh, the “accounting of the soul,” as though we ourselves are beloved. This may feel intimidating, yet each of us can choose to courageously look at ourselves. We can bypass the instinct to see flaws and nothing else. We can embrace the idea that transformation is easier when we approach with love - with belovedness.
Reflect: As we face the season of cheshbon hanefesh, how might you account for yourself in a way that reflects the sentiment that you are beloved by the Divine? Before you say, “What? Beloved by the Divine? As in, God? Whoa!!!! I can’t even wrap my head around the idea that I am beloved by GOD,” consider that belovedness can be a counter to the harsh judgment we too often offer ourselves. If we lead from compassion and belovedness, we do not need to be intimidated by the act of looking our choices. If it helps, imagine that you are your own best friend, or child, or partner - someone to whom you are accustomed to offering grace.
Act: Take some time to compassionately enter the season of reflection. Sit down in a quiet place that you can make your own. Light a candle (perhaps one that smells sweet). Sit with some of your favorite snacks (something you might offer to your beloved - chocolate, anyone?). Take a few deep breaths to simply be.
On a blank piece of paper, write your responses to the following questions:
Who is beloved to me?
Who am I beloved to?
How do I treat those who are beloved to me?
How do I treat myself as beloved?
To expand this activity and do it with your family, use these prompts to start a conversation:
Who do we each love?
Who loves each of us?
How do we treat those we love?
How do we treat ourselves with love?
Bonus: What do you think the word "beloved" means?
Consider having this conversation at a cozy, relaxed time - at the dinner table, or on the couch.
Consider listening to a familiar High Holy Day song, such as Avinu Malkeinu, a song that describes a loving, compassionate God.
Rabbi Bethie Miller writes periodic reflections on the state of our world and the Jewish project. She also writes about creative ideas for combining Jewish wisdom with our modern lives. Here are links to previous ones:
Looking for Hope at the Seder Table (4/13/22)
Happy 9th Night of Hanukkah (12/6/21)
The Healing is in the Return (8/18/21)
Time to Pray (11/2/20)
The Secret to At-One-Ment (9/27/20)
Taking a Sharp Left Turn into 5781 (9/15/20)
Waking Up One Day At Time (8/31/20)
This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared (8/18/20)
The Day is Short (6/16/20)
Spiritual Mountain Climbing Without Leaving the House (5/14/20)
Shabbat Peace, Love & Light (3/20/20)
Sources of Connection as We Practice Social Distancing (3/16/20)
Purim Has Never Felt So Resonant (3/9/20)
The Miracle of Chanukah (12/20/19)
To Be Jewish is To Be Grateful (12/2/19)
What I Learned During the High Holy Days (10/16/19)
New Year, New Project - Welcome to Sanctuary (10/3/19)