If you are doing Elul right, it’s hard.
Teshuva is hard.
I could say that teshuva is hard for me, but from what I have learned teshuva is supposed to be hard. Recognizing your flaws and dedicating time and energy to personal change is just hard.
During the month of Elul we are supposed to be reflexive, taking a full accounting of our behavior for the year. We know Hashem is going to be “checking the books” soon, so if we are going to ask him to forgive the screw-ups we really ought to know what they are first. Or at least try to know what they are.
The Rabbi of Twin Rivers, where I live, is a big proponent of an Elul Cheshbon Hanefesh, or spiritual accounting, to properly prepare for Rosh Hashana. A book by this name was written by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satanov in 1812, with a prescription on how best to do such an accounting. The problem is a true Cheshbon Hanefesh is really difficult! To sit down and take a real honest look at one’s behavior towards G-d and our fellow human beings is time consuming and uncomfortable. Of course perhaps my readers are much better humans than I am and your Cheshbon Hanefesh is a walk in the park because you get to remind yourself of how many wonderful things you did…. but that isn’t the case for me.
I have made a number of people decidedly unhappy, uncomfortable and even hurt throughout this past year. It makes me quite unhappy, uncomfortable and hurt to know that I have done this. If you are reading this and you are one of those people, I hope you will accept my heartfelt forgiveness. If I come to realize what it is I did and when, I will do my best to contact you directly and try to make amends before my time runs out. If you want to tell me in case I don’t get there on my own I won’t enjoy the experience at the time but I will be truly grateful.
Saddest of all, I know that try as I may to be a better person, which I will, I am most likely going to be able to say the same statement next year at this time. Some of what I have done seems to be misunderstandings. Or justifiable. Or a difference of opinion. But I would be kidding myself if I said it ended there. I still have a lot of work to do in this lifetime in order to be at my best. It definitely does not feel like fun to have to beat myself up so as a part of religion. A lot less fun than Homeshuling’s Top Ten. (Oh, just go read it after you finish this.)
Judaism isn’t always about fun. It is about pleasure. Pleasure in this world and pleasure in the world to come*. The Sages say that pleasure and fun are NOT the same thing. They also teach (I am told) that pleasure will come from the mastery of my own shortcomings. From my personal growth and slaying of my dragons. That this is the true pleasure in both worlds.
It is a lot more fun – or at least pleasurable – to live with myself when I “clean out my soul’s closet” as it is described in our latest PJ library book, “New Year at the Pier” … I just wish I hadn’t let it get so messy and cluttered up this year.
*If you want to watch a very short and fabulous video on “the world to come”, check out jewinthecity.com