By Mike Steklof, Ed.D.
“G!D said to Moses: “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered.” (Exodus 34:1)
Last week we entered Elul, the month on the Hebrew calendar that leads up to the High Holy Days. This month, the last month of the year, is traditionally used to reflect on the year and to prepare for the High Holy Day season. According to Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, a book of midrash (stories to explain the Torah), the beginning of Elul is when Moses went back up to Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets. This occurred after Mosses destroyed the first (at the time, the only) set in a fit of rage after he saw that the Israelites had created an idol to worship while he was on the mountain speaking to G!D. After destroying the tablets, Moses prayed and G!D invited him to come back up Mount Sinai to receive a new set of tablets to give to the Jewish people.
This story inspires me each year at the beginning of Elul. It teaches that no matter what we do, even if we are like Moses and destroy a holy object given to us by G!D, there is always room for forgiveness and reconciliation.
During Elul, many traditionally undertake a practice known as Cheshbon HaNefesh (accounting of the soul). Cheshbon HaNefesh allows one to take inventory of their life during the past year and determine what they should change to become a better person in the year to come.
Some guiding questions to consider include:
- In what ways have I made the world better? In what ways have I made it worse?
- How do I affect the lives of others? Are their lives easier or harder because of my behavior?
The purpose of these questions is not to regret the choices you made during the past year but instead to make sure that your actions match your values.
For many years, I’ve spent time during this month reflecting on the questions above. During this introspection, I’ve always identified things that I could have done better and wished I had done differently. I am always left thankful that the purpose of undergoing this process is not to give myself a gold star for having a perfect year but rather to create a map to make meaningful change in the year to come.
Mike Steklof, Ed.D, is Senior Director of LiNK Jewish Buffalo