Look in the Mirror – Tell Me, What do You See?

By Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman

Think back to a big life change. Maybe you started a new job – a career shift even. Or maybe you packed up your life and moved to a different city or country. Maybe it was the start of having children or the change that occurs when there are no children left in your home. You likely saw these big changes coming – there was time to prepare, to “nest”, and to put your “affairs” in order, so that you would be ready. Can you imagine those big life changes without time to prepare? Thrust into a chaotic life change would produce feelings of anxiety, you might feel overwhelmed or worse left feeling paralyzed by the change.

Judaism doesn’t want this for you. Our tradition sees the approach to the High Holy Days as one of incredible importance – and yes – it is meant to be approached as a BIG life change. In fact, it’s so important that we get an entire month to ready ourselves for the spiritual overhaul that is meant to occur during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is the Jewish month that directly precedes the High Holy Days. Traditionally it is time of reflection, searching, and contemplating our lives but also a time for renewal.

Each morning of Elul we are supposed to awaken to the blast of the shofar. Similar to a head-splitting alarm clock, the shofar is meant to shake us from our complacency and inspire us to get started. To literally jump into the real work of what we call, “Cheshbone HaNefesh” – an accounting of the soul. During Elul we hold up a mirror to our insides and thoroughly examine the best and worst of what we see:

  • Of what am I most proud? In my personal life, at work?
  • What were the choices I made that exposed my weaknesses, my selfishness, my lack of compassion or care?
  • In what ways was I a good friend, spouse, parent, child, family member, co-worker?
  • In what ways did I fail my friends, spouse, child, family member, parent and co-worker?
  • How did I afford time for my spiritual journey, my Judaism, my Jewish learning?
  • Why did I pass up on opportunities to grow my Jewish identity? What are the consequences?
  • What am I modeling for my children or the next generation of Jews?
    How did I give back – to my community, to my city? How did I do my part in healing the world- or starting with my little corner of it?
  • Why did I turn away from news stories that scared me, why did ignore the clarion call to seek Justice for those that are dire circumstances?

Waiting until Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to ask ourselves these very real, very challenging questions might leave us feeling paralyzed. It’s too much to handle in one 10 day period. We need time to celebrate the progress we made over the last year, to feel good about our spiritual and emotional growth, but we also need time to wrestle with the parts of ourselves that can and should do better. To not just list out the ways in which we failed but to ask the tougher question of why – Why do I continue to ignore opportunities to be better, to do better?

We want to help. Your clergy wants to hold your hand on this journey and give you opportunities to celebrate, wrestle, reflect and renew – so that we all walk into 112 75th street on Erev Rosh Hashanah ready for a New Year. Every Friday night during the month of Elul we will be using a special siddur or prayer book designed specifically for Elul – offering prayers and inspiring poetry to help us do the real work of preparing for the holiest days of the year. Join us for this very real and authentic tradition of readying ourselves for a New Year – and a New You!

Our Mission Is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope- not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak n shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is Gonna Be All Right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, of truth-telling about your own soul first of all and its condition; the place of resistance and defiance, from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we’re seeing, asking them what they see.

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