Yearly we go to our doctor for a physical, we seek out our physician and receive a checkup. We are poked and prodded and have fluids taken. Well it is Elul and it is time for go to our soul and our shul and have a spiritual, and receive a check-in.
The major part of our Elul check-in is probably the Jiminy Cricket or ‘goodness test’.
We are taught to do good for goodness sake, as the song sings. But in Jewing we strive to be good for Godness sake.
My father (zt’l) told me the story of when he was a Yeshiva student courting the hand of his wife to be, who was the daughter of the great Rabbi Abraham Cronbach. My father a poor student (he would wish me to add, monetarily), would call his ‘girl’ on the pay phone of the dorm, putting the nickel in and dialing then hanging up thereby saving a nickel. His intended, would then know to call him back from her home to the dorm phone, which would cost her nothing. One day, my father was called into the office of his professor and future father in law. As I remember the story, Rabbi Cronbach (eventually to become my grampa) said: “Davis, I know that you love my daughter very much. And I am aware that she returns your feelings. Therefore I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to pay for your calls!” And with that, he handed my father a large bag full of nickels. The lesson was clear, it may not mean anything in the scheme of things but by cheating the phone company even in this small way, you are sullying your soul, the Godness in yourself.
And that dear friends is the beginning of our process. It is called Eluling and it begins this month. It is our running start up to the High and Holy Days. You see there are steps to our path through Elul to Rosh HaShanah and finally to Yom Kippur. And step one is to examine our soul for smudges and splatters and tiny tears and unsightly and unsighted smears that we have missed over the past year. They are evidence of a malady, an I deficiency. How have I let you down. It helps if we can return to our childlike state for a moment. My pop (as I called my father) would always say: “If you would be embarrassed about telling me something, that is a clue that you aren’t happy with it.” Well maybe that is a guideline. For me stating out loud even to myself things that I have neglected, a thank you, a follow through, or follow up, a need for help that I only half heartedly gave, all these and more are things that I have to say aloud for Godness sake. And when I hear them, I am embarrassed or ashamed. That is step one of the process, for me. The next step is to speak of them in apology to the thou in my “I-Thou” relationships.
After I have been able to do that, I am prepared for the more difficult step of facing myself and facing my G. I look at that part of my soul that is not between you and me but between me and me and between G and me, the part only I can see and examine. I look for grit and grime that that is a symptom of my soul infection. Oy, there are things that I have done or not done that disappoint me for Godness sake. Have I given as much as I had planned to Tzedakah. Have I read the good works that I wanted to read. Have I studied enough to fill my soul. Have I davenned as much as I had promised myself last year to daven. Have I been truly in the moment.
After I have cleared out the baggage from last year, that impedimenta that has impeded my soul, snagged on the branches of laziness, or good intentions, then I can make ready to wash my soul in the Mikvah of tradition and look upon it clean and renewed and on the road to good spiritual health in the light of the High and Holy Days. I am prepared to look toward the coming year and examine how I can make next year more successful for Godness sake. How I can fulfill the dreams and challenges and hopes and prayers that I so wish to do, for Godness sake and make each uncompromising hour a little more full and fulfilling for Godness sake.
Yes my annual spiritual begins with a self-exam of where I have failed and succeeded in finding my goodness for Godness sake. I look at the Thou and then the I and then at the G that stands between us. I acknowledge my challenges aloud and adjust my vision for the upcoming year. I shed some fluid in the form of tears and test my spiritual equilibrium, my soul balance as I drop those extra pounds of guilt and anger. I leave that time of High and Holy Days, poked and prodded and healthy and hopeful and better for the experience and prepared to good for Godness sake.