In less than a week, we’re going to be in the thick of the High Holy Days. This might not be a time of celebration like Simchat Torah or Purim, but unlike those festivals, the High Holy Days — and especially the days leading up to them — force us to think deeply about how we interact with God, the world around us, our loved ones, and ourselves. This is what the month of Elul, the month we are in right now, is all about.
In case some of us haven’t yet begun the process of preparing for the High Holy Days, I would like to share a list of questions which might get us in the proper mindset of the yamim nora’im. If nothing else, this exercise could very well open our eyes and hearts to one specific area in our lives. These questions are meant for everyone to ponder regardless of age, Jewish communal participation or denomination.
• Am I walking as lightly as possible upon the earth? Do I pay attention to my consumption of resources and how I dispose of waste?
• Do I make myself aware of other cultures and peoples? Do I learn about other ways of living and seeing the world?
• Am I informed about pockets of intense suffering in the world and have I done what I can to contribute to easing that suffering?
• What role does Israel play in my life as a Jew?
• Do I participate in the life of my city? Do I know who the local political leaders are and what they stand for?
• Am I registered to vote and have I studied the issues that may affect my daily life?
• Do I support, in one way or another, the individuals and groups who are creating Jewish life in this city? Does my Jewish life extend beyond the walls of my synagogue, JCC, chavurah or university?
• Do I encourage and support those who have taken on the responsibility of Jewish leadership?
• Have I thought about taking on more leadership within my Jewish community?
Our family, friends and work
• How are my closest relationships? If any of them are strained, is there anything I could be doing differently to help improve them?
• Do I make time for the most important relationships in my life? Do I treat my siblings, children, partner and parents with respect? Am I able to see the image of God within each of them?
• Have I called my grandparents or in-laws recently?
• Do I have close friends in whom I am able to confide? Do I accept people as they are or do I try to change them? Have I made any new friends this past year?
• Am I satisfied with my occupation? Is my work an extension of a personal passion? Am I helping others in some meaningful way whether they know it or not?
• Am I making a difference as a retiree?
• Am I taking care of my body? Do I exercise enough? Do I eat properly? Do I get enough rest? Do I floss?
• Do I keep my mind active? Do I read good books? Do I talk about ideas and important matters with friends and family?
• Do I see myself as a child of God — someone completely unique and special in this world?
• Is music part of my life? What about meditation? Do I allow myself to deeply experience beauty in nature?
• Are there any hobbies I would like to take up?
• Do I pray? Do I speak to God without asking for anything in return? Do I take the time to listen for an answer?
• Have I thanked God for existence, for connecting with specific individuals, for food, for the whole array of mitzvot?
• Have I thought about my relationship with God and concept of God recently?
This is not a test. It does not matter how many yeses or nos you answered. This is just our annual check-up. Luckily for us, we don’t have to actually get on that scale or get our teeth scraped. But usually, after our annual doctor and dentist visits, we are told what we need to do in the coming year. (“Floss more” — that’s what I’m always told. When will I learn?) Well, no one is going to tell you what you need to do for this spiritual check-up. You are the doctor and the patient. You know what you ought to do. I hope it’s painless. And I hope you pay attention to yourselves.
I hope you have a meaningful Elul and High Holy Day experience. K’tivah v’chatima tovah, may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.