The month of Elul really gets the ball rolling for thoughts concerning the Fall Holidays: Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. This year Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on Sunday, September 4. We will talk about Rosh Chodesh in another post.
Selchot (prayers of repentance) and Cheshbon HaNefesh begin near this time. I will talk about Selchot in the next post. Today I want to focus on Cheshbon HaNefesh. Cheshbon HaNefesh is an accounting of our souls. This is a book written my Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin in 1809. It has a lovely introduction explaining how to use the book to to guard oneself from the evil inclination (yetzer hara) which battles man by using a variety of strategies. His goal is to teach us to master our thoughts. Now I would quote 2 Corinthians 10:5b, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Messiah.”
I want to bring out a point here. It is very important that as we study things within Judaism, we must check ourselves to make sure that we know what is scriptural and what is not. My purpose in talking about the Cheshbon HaNefesh is to point out the areas it lists to examine ourselves as we approach the Fall Holidays. It is always a good idea to search to see where we are weak, where we sin. This can be a useful tool for introspection and self-examination.
The first character trait listed is equanimity. This deals with rising above the inconsequential. Being firm in one’s security with the L-rd (My addition). This trait, when possessed, helps us not to be swayed by every little thing which enters our lives. I believe one of the most important gifts G-d gives us is the assurance of our salvation once we have received His free gift. This assurance should put us at ease and make us firm in this foundation so that we are not blown around by every little thing that happens.
I include myself when I say let us pray for G-d to give us His peace in our daily lives so as not to be frazzled and worried about every thing that crops up in our lives.
The second is patience. “When something bad happens to you and you did not have the ability to avoid it, do not aggravate the situation even more through wasted grief.” The author suggest that we see G-d’s perfection and His interaction with and care for His creation. We must really evaluate how we respond to a situation. Are we gracious, caring, forgiving? Are we angry, frustrated, cruel? We cannot always determine what happens to us, but we can determine how we respond.
The last one we will deal with today is order. We see in the Bible that G-d is a G-d of order. We see in I Corinthians 14:33: “For G-d is not (the author) of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” In Hebrew, the word “shalom” means not only peace, but also whole or complete. We should not live chaotic, scatter-brained lives. In order to be effective in our ministry, no matter what it might be, we must live an orderly life. This will allow us to properly prioritize our lives and accomplish what G-d want for us.
The final step today is to think of these three character traits and see how weaknesses in them are causing sin, disobedience, or omissions in our lives. This is the time of year when we are to look at ourselves honestly and prayerfully to see where we need to submit in obedience and repent from our disobedience.