As you might have noticed, all Jewish holidays are “early” this year – our High Holidays will be a late-Summer holiday! In the few weeks left until our holy days arrive, our tradition calls us to enter our synagogues ready to accept our shortcomings and to welcome repentance and forgiveness into our lives. We call the preparation “heshbon ha-nefesh” (lit. “taking an inventory of the soul”), our spiritual “homework,” during which we look at the year that has passed. As we reflect on our past actions, we find joy mingled with disappointment. We yearn for a sense of renewal.
This spiritual exercise begins by letting go of the inescapable fear of discovering what we have done and what we have allowed ourselves to become. Many of us are seduced into focusing merely on what we have achieved, on what we have done well. But our tradition calls us to take a measured look at our actions and our relationships –- in our family, our congregation, and our community.
As the summer comes to an end, the natural world also enters as a time of transition; it is a time to bridge the lazy days of summer to the crisp fall mornings filled with autumn colors. We are part of nature so it can also be a transitional time between who we have become and that person whom we long to become. It is a bridge between regret and repentance, between guilt and renewal. It is a time that holds the promise of change.
Let us begin our spiritual homework and take a few minutes every day to reflect on the year that has passed, and to ponder the good deeds we have done – but let us also be sure to remember our omissions, our shortcomings as Jews and as human beings. Once we have done an honest spiritual retrospection, we will be ready and able to approach the New Year in the spirit of humility and repentance.
Shanah tovah, may the New Year bring spiritual renewal, joy, health, happiness and peace to us all.
How are you preparing for the High Holidays? Do you have any "family" traditions that help you get in the right frame of mind?