Saturday, September 10, 2022

Elul: Repentance

Dear Friends, 

Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, and is the time of year we take stock of our lives and prepare for the High Holidays. Most of us have at least one area in which we struggle; perhaps it is being ethical in business, being moral, being charitable and kind, learning more Torah, refraining from hurting others, or an area of observance we are ready to strengthen. 

Pick one area on which to focus and choose a manageable change you will make on a daily or at least weekly basis; input this change into your calendar or checklist. If possible, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance. The focus on repentance continues into next month until after Yom Kippur.

During Elul, we ask others for forgiveness for the times we wronged them, as Yom Kippur alone does not atone for those sins.

The main ways people harm others is financially or emotionally. If there is anyone who you have harmed financially (for example, withholding money that belongs to them or using underhanded tactics) and you have not yet made amends, now is the time to do so. 

There are a number of ways we may have caused others emotional harm: making hurtful comments, gossiping about them or being hypercritical. Being well intentioned is not an excuse. There is often at least one person in our lives, whether at work, at home or in our family, that we are not treating appropriately. That has to stop. Now.

This month, compile a list of those you have hurt. One by one, go through the list and apologize and make amends if applicable. If you have trouble with one name, skip it for now and come back to it later. If you can’t think of anyone to apologize to, think about if there’s anyone you are in conflict with, or someone who is upset with you. While they may be partially to blame, likely you share some blame as well. If you take responsibility for your part, they will often take responsibility for theirs.

During the month of Elul it is customary to study works on ethical development. One classic is The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. You can either study it from the beginning, or start with Chapter 11, which covers key areas of conduct, and then go back and study the rest of this work. Chapter 11 can be found here. Another classic is Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Bachya ibn Pekuda. You can either study it from the beginning (the first gate is often not studied nowadays), or you can study the third chapter of The Gate of Introspection, where there is a list of 30 fundamental ideas. Aim to study one idea each day of Elul and finish it in time for Rosh Hashanah. You can read the third chapter in English here.

As the High Holidays involve reciting many prayers, for suggestions on how to enhance your prayers, see, “How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer.”

Questions for the month:

“Which area do I struggle with that I’m motivated to address this Elul and what commitment will I make?”

“Who have I wronged but never apologized and made amends? When will I contact them?”

Have a great week,