Elul 5 13th August 2021
Elul is the time for us to do cheshbon nefesh, the accounting of our soul. The language is curious – it feels more like the language of commerce than that of spirituality. Yet the tradition is replete with such language and metaphor for our spiritual cleansing.
In Pirkei Avot we read “Rabbi (Judah haNasi) said: which is the straight path that a person should choose for themself? One which is an honour to the person adopting it, and [on account of which] honour [accrues] to him from others. And be careful with a light commandment as with a grave one, for you do know not the reward for the fulfilment of the commandments. Also, reckon the loss [that may be sustained through the fulfilment] of a commandment against the reward [accruing] thereby, and the gain [that may be obtained through the committing] of a transgression against the loss [entailed] thereby. Apply your mind to three things and you will not come into the clutches of sin: Know what there is above you: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.” (2:1)
There is a clear sense that our lives become balance sheets, with credit and debit columns that can be examined and checked against us. Spiritually we can both make profits and losses.
So with this metaphor in mind, Elul is the time for us to look at the balance sheets and make a plan so that next year we will look more spiritually solvent.
What will bring us honour and what will only bring us satisfaction? When we choose our path through the next year, tradition reminds us that there are bigger needs than our own immediate gratification. At some point there will be a reckoning – better to have the annual audit and make our adjustments gradually towards a more honourable life.
For after all, as we also find in Avot (2:15) “The day is short and the work is great, the workers are lazy and the reward is great and the Ruler of the House is insistent”