By Laura Seymour
Camp is over and school is beginning for children and their families. For those “real” campers, leaving camp is always a bit sad and for some children, school starting is a bit scary. There was a back-to-school event planned and they called it the “Boohoo/Woohoo Breakfast” for parents. The experience can be both positive and negative at the same time. Every beginning and ending brings mixed emotions for us all. The Jewish calendar, as you know, is an often confusing one especially now as we look toward Rosh Hashanah — which is the New Year but it is celebrated in the seventh month of the Jewish year (lots to read about on our calendar!). However, the month of Tishri (with all its many holidays) is preceded by the important month of Elul.
Yes, camp, school, months, holidays, beginnings, endings all are connected with an important process: REFLECTION! Starting in the month of Elul, we hear the shofar blown every morning (which you can hear me do in the J lobby at around 9 a.m.). Why do we begin blowing the shofar? The rabbis have one idea but for us shofar blowers, we need the month to practice. What our sages tell us is that the shofar is a wake-up call — we need to reflect on the past year and prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we repent and apologize for our “sins.” Sin is a pretty big and maybe scary word but the Hebrew, chet, is really about missing the mark, making a mistake. Now some mistakes are definitely more serious or hurtful than others and some mistakes are accidents but still hurt and cause pain to others. Reflecting means recognizing what has happened and deciding what to do to make amends and how to be sure not to repeat the same mistakes.
Great, you say — I got it! But do we really need a reminder every day and for a whole month? Have we really sinned so much? What if we use the time to look at both the good and the bad, to reflect on how things went this past year and set goals for the coming year? That is not a quick project but an important one. The term for doing all this is called “cheshbon hanefesh — an accounting of the soul.” From coffeeshoprabbi.com:
“Cheshbon hanefesh is not for beating ourselves up. Jewish tradition ascribes to each human being an infinite, unmeasurable worth. There is no such thing as a “worthless” human being in Judaism. This is not about our worth as individuals; it is about the worth of our behavior as individuals. What are we doing with our lives? Cheshbon hanefesh is the essential prelude to meaningful change. If we approach the process humbly and sincerely, it can provide us with a map for more worthy living.”
You have the task before you: Start reflecting, listen to the shofar or maybe even learn to blow one. We are not commanded to blow the shofar, only to hear it, but there is a special feeling when you create the sound and it vibrates within you. Get ready for Elul and for the year to come — it will be here soon.
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.