Heshbon Hanefesh, Spiritual Accounting — The Week's End (August 18, 2022)
Aug 18th 2022

The month of Elul begins in just over a week. Below is an invitation to begin thinking, over this time, about how we might each choose to engage with the opportunities of Elul.

Elul is the month that leads up to Rosh Hashanah, Aseret Yimei Teshuvah—10 days of Return—and Yom Kippur. During the month of Elul we are encouraged to begin to engage in H̱eshbon Hanefesh, Spiritual Accounting, a process that deepens throughout the holy days. Sometimes this work of reflecting on the year past and the ways we may have missed the mark, can feel like just that, work. Sometimes the process of ‘taking stock’ can become painful and even unkind. I’m curious about what tender and even playful ways we might approach this process. Our sages offer us a clue about how to begin.

The Hebrew letters that spell out Elul are described in the Talmud as an acronym for the phrase from Song of Songs: ‘Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li‘ – I am my beloved and my beloved in mine. Why this phrase? In order to engage in this process of reflection and discernment, we are offered this cue, a zechira, a reminder, to lean into the presence of the Beloved, cultivating and recommitting to sacred relationship.

An essential component of beginning any spiritual journey is to be reminded that we are loved, not because we did the right things, or behaved the right way, but just because we are. This is the texture, then, of what accompanies us as we turn to face the difficult truths of our lives. Without this bolstering of loving and caring presence, the process of spiritual accounting can become one of sharp edges, self-deprecation, lacking the buoyancy to support good thinking about how to make necessary changes.

I have just returned from two weeks of high-level arts training with my long-time vocal teacher Fides Krucker. One of the essential pieces of wisdom with which I returned home is not, as one might think, about musical scales or pretty sounding voices. It is about how slowing down to notice simple delights of the senses can care for and help to regulate our nervous systems. Inclining ourselves towards the Beloved, to the holiness of Presence, to divinity within and around us and leaning into a sense of boundless care that is the birthright of each and every being, can awaken a sense of ease, of ok’ness, maybe even of pleasure.

So, what might you want to do this Elul to prepare to approach and deepen the process of H̱eshbon Hanefesh? Some ideas: take a short walk each morning without listening to the news and tune in, instead, to the birds. Spend a good long minute with your tea or coffee and really taste it, while doing nothing else but that. Recite Psalm 27 each morning (the psalm for this season), it is filled with loving reminders. Make a dedicated time to slow down, to notice the breath moving you and to delight in the wonder of just this. How about, this year, instead of waiting to arrive to tefilot for Rosh Hashanah to do the deep work, we start beforehand by seeding the internal soil with love, the ever-present love of the Beloved.

This ‘work’ is not meant to be done alone. Please consider joining any number of our prayer opportunities and programs at the shul to share this time and, also, please feel free to reach out and connect. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this invitation, and how this time unfolds for you.