Q: As I get ready for Rosh Hashanah, the focus is on getting everyone new clothing, preparing food for Yom Tov meals, and generally getting all the details together. To really imagine that this is the day that Hashem is judging the world — I’m just not there.
I have so many details to focus on — I also work outside of the house —I don’t feel as if I am getting anywhere for the Yamim Nora’im. I stay home taking care of the children’s needs and feel as if I am not taking care of mine.
A: In terms of being ready for Rosh Hashanah, it is true that in light of how busy we are, making time for introspection may seem close to impossible. However, just as one manages to carve out time for an emergency dentist’s appointment, time similarly needs to be created to revisit experiences of the past year. This time alone can be more readily accomplished when in a private setting, or when children are at school. Taking the phone off the hook also assures fewer interruptions.
Once a person sets aside special time, writing the “year’s review” is very helpful. Just as one periodically takes inventory in business, a similar process must occur in relation to oneself at this time. Taking inventory always includes listing gains and losses; so, too, with reflection, pluses and minuses must be addressed.
When scrutinizing one’s actions, one can often find blemishes in mitzvah performance. “Perhaps I’ve done this with a selfish purpose — I wanted to make a good impression on my neighbor/relative/co-worker.” Even if true, each mitzvah contains even a small amount of good!
Being honest means giving oneself the benefit of the doubt. There are often areas in which people improve if they are sincere.
One needs to see the good that has been accomplished in the past year in order to find meaning in life, and give direction to one’s future. The good can be as mundane as “getting everyone to brush their teeth at night.” As it is a mitzvah to take care of one’s physical body, this deed is truly a “plus” on your list.
There are many additional pluses you can record. Initiating friendships with neighbors, for example, is a manifestation of ahavas Yisrael. The times one easily could have spoken lashon haraor rechilus, but held oneself back, are meritorious moments of which only the specific person and the Ribbono shel Olam are aware. Speaking in a calm voice to your children in stress-provoking situations is another example of an exemplary achievement.
Such instances of praiseworthy actions should be written down in this cheshbon hanefesh. As these accomplishments are recorded and counted, the past year takes on richness in content and meaning. The more specific this “inventory” is, the more one can reflect upon the year with a sense of accomplishment and success.
It is less painful to confront personal shortcomings after being reminded of one’s many good points. Even if these positive actions seem “small” in comparison to “great accomplishments,” what greater achievement is there than tikkun hamiddos?
As one sees that one has made changes — even incrementally — one realizes that one’s shortcomings are surely not insurmountable. Once one can appreciate and focus on one’s own good points, one can more easily focus on the good points of others — especially family members. Harav Nachman of Breslov discusses this idea (Likutei Maharan 1, 282), in relation to a general search for “good points” in all human beings — especially oneself.
Though sometimes giving to family members may seem overwhelming, the idea of emulating Hashem’s Thirteen Supernal Attributes of Mercy (as discussed in the Ramak’s TomerDevorah ) is a core concept in one’s avodas Hashem. Tolerating the character flaws of family members and showing continual sensitivity and patience is clearly a high spiritual goal towards which either parent can strive.
One can see the great benefits of giving to one’s family members; the quality of positive relationships can only expand and improve in quality.