10 Questions to Ask Yourself This Elul
The month of Elul, which falls just before the new year, is a month of introspection and taking stock.
In Judaism, we have the concept of Teshuvah, which I briefly went over in my post on dybbuk, which translates roughly to repentance, though the concept of repentance in Judaism is not the same as in Christianity. It is not simply for sins outlined in our texts, nor does it mean ultimate salvation as it can in other religious beliefs. Teshuvah, also spelled Tshuvah, means "returning", which tied with the word for sin, "chet", denotes a return to our best selves. Our most righteous selves. Our most true selves. Our most wholesome selves. Teshuvah is a specific set of actions used to take accountability and right a wrong that has been done.
There are two types of sins outlined in Jewish texts: sins against HaShem (G/d), and sins against other people. To do Teshuvah for the first is different than to do Teshuvah for the second and HaShem cannot forgive a sin committed against another person.
The steps to Teshuvah are as follows, though not always in this order:
regretting & acknowledging the sin or wrongdoing
forsaking the sin or wrongdoing
worrying about the future consequences of the sin or wrongdoing;
acting and speaking with humility;
acting in a way opposite to that of the sin or wrongdoing(for example, for the sin of lying, one should speak the truth);
understanding the magnitude of the sin or wrongdoing;
refraining from lesser sins or wrongdoings for the purpose of safeguarding oneself against committing greater sins or wrongdoings;
confessing the sin or wrongdoing;
praying for atonement;
correcting the sin or wrongdoing however possible (for example, if one stole an object, the stolen item must be returned; or, if one slanders another, the slanderer must ask the injured party for forgiveness);
pursuing works of chesed and truth;
remembering the sin or wrongdoing for the rest of one's life;
refraining from committing the same sin or wrongdoing if the opportunity presents itself again;
teaching others not to sin or do such wrongdoings
The goal of Teshuvah is not forgiveness, nor is a person required to forgive. The precedence here is solely placed on doing the work, even if there is no promised reward of forgiveness. This structure forces accountability to be placed on the wrongdoer, not the wronged.
During the month of Elul, we focus heavily on taking stock in our lives and seeing where each of ourselves is in the process of Teshuvah on an external and internal level.
Here is a checklist of 10 things to meditate, ruminate, and ponder over in the next few days:
Have you wronged someone or sinned (whatever that means to you) in way that requires Teshuvah?
Are you dedicated to the Teshuvah that you must do?
Is there something that you are ready to let go of?
Is there someone that you feel ready to forgive?
How have you hurt yourself?
What negative belief systems do you hold that no longer serve you?
What walls and barriers have you put up that you can let down?
Who in your life do you need to hold accountable for harming you or others?
What parts of yourself are you ignoring?
What healing is there to be done in your life?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is the beginning. We are nearly through the month of Elul, but these are not time-sensitive questions. While we specifically dedicate extra time to them during the month of Elul, we are on an ever-moving journey to heal ourselves and move closer to HaShem.
For many, meditation or contemplation can be frightening, but it does not have to be. While it is often portrayed as the complete clearing of the mind, meditation is also to sit in contemplation and observance of your own thoughts.
With the list above, meditation is quite possible.
A Simple Guide to Meditation
Find a quiet space. This can be seated, kneeling, laying down, or even standing up. Choose a position that is comfortable for you.
Set your space. For some, this includes lighting candles, incense, using sound to cleanse the space, or a combination of all.
Mark the beginning of your preparation by stating aloud that you are ready to do this work:
I am prepared. Hin'ni mukhan. הנני מוכן.
Use this time to center yourself. Take as long as you need before beginning. Many choose to close their eyes, but this is entirely up to you.
Begin by asking yourself the first question.
The above section of meditation draws from the text: The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices, CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings.
At Rosh HaShanah, when the new year begins and we are sealed in the Book of Good Life, your work is included there, written in your own hand. Our actions, each of them, have an impact on the world around us, and most importantly, on ourselves. It is our duty as practitioners to take care of ourselves, and others, in the best way we can.
The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices, CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings.