by Rabbi Kliel Rose
(EJNews) – Shalom U’vracha! The month of Elul initiates our spiritual preparations for the New Year. Leading up to the Yamim Noraim, literally the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) we are encouraged to delve deeply into the process called heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul.
In this work of self-reflection, we are invited to face ourselves, to examine who we are and what we yearn to become.
Elul urges us to explore the ways in which we have responded to both the blessings and challenges we have experienced. It calls us to notice ways we have created connection and comfort, and ways in which we have caused alienation and pain.
Engaging in this process we are moved toward honest reflection, forgiveness, celebration and healing.
The word ELUL (spelled in Hebrew, Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed) serves as an acronym for a well-known verse in the Song of Songs, Ani l’dodi,v’dodi li. I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.
The connection between the name of the month and this Biblical verse becomes clear when we realize that heshbon hanefesh is a way of sensitizing us, with love and tenderness.
While we are asked to be honest, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we are meant to feel shame or harsh judgment. Nor are we prevented from looking at the errors which we have made without some degree of humour. Rather, we reflect on where we have been and what we have witnessed, truthfully, and with a heart filled with compassion.
While it may seem like a peculiar segue, the idea of heshbon hanefesh came home to me just the other day, in a most unusual setting (perhaps?).
Sunday night, during the first week of the Edmonton Fringe Festival, my wife and I attended an evening performance of a one-man comedic show.
“Asperger’s: A Tale of a Social Misfit” is a comedy, written and performed by a young Jewish Winnipegger named Adam Schwartz who is a high-functioning person with a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. The inspiration for Schwartz’s show is his own life and the challenges he faces trying to make friends and, specifically, with the issue of finding a girlfriend.
Individuals who have Asperger’s syndrome often refer to themselves as “Aspies.” Aspies do not always understand the nuances of language and social norms. They also have difficulty dealing with sarcasm, and they may (mistakenly) take these comments seriously.
In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press Adam shared the following when talking about creating his show: “I came to understand that I’m on a different wavelength than most people, and I’m probably always going to be a social misfit wherever I go…Having Asperger’s has caused a lot of depression, but at other times, I’m happy with who I am.”
What I took away from this brutally honest and humorous presentation was that Adam is a person who is deeply aware of his essential self. In fact, his comic monologue contains a message of positivity and hope.
As a viewer but perhaps even more as a father of an Aspie child, I was moved and really impressed with Adam’s show.
Adam Schwartz’s presentation, at the Fringe festival, was a truthful, eloquent and funny self-appraisal. It was an accounting of the soul; a really fine example of what our tradition calls heshbon hanefesh. The performance was filled with a beautiful awareness of one’s ability to look inward, to reflect (with true humility, love, and tenderness towards the self). It also carried a powerful message to each of us about how we (collectively) often miss the mark when interacting with folks who are not “neurotypicals” (a term for non-Aspies).
Learning to use this method – ideally with compassion, levity and love – we learn that heshbon hanefesh provides us with an opportunity not only to reflect on our own nature, but also to discover how to make amends; how to fix our relationships with others, and how to return to what we find most valuable in those relationships.
In the coming New Year may we be blessed to engage in the heshbon hanefesh process with members of our precious community, and may we together reach higher levels of insight and spiritual fulfillment.
Dorit and the younger Kosmin-Roses (our children — Toviel, Kolya, Aziza, Dia & Anaya) join me in blessing each of you with a New Year filled with love, good health, and prosperity.
Shanah Tovah U’M’tukah; a happy and sweet year to all!
(Rabbi Kliel Rose is the spiritual leader at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton Alberta.)