Friday, September 14, 2012

10 Questions for 10 Days of Reflection in 5773

Rabbi Todd Markley
As this Shabbat approaches, and with it the anticipation of our Rosh Hashanah celebrations which begin on Sunday evening, we can't help but look forward with hope and excitement to a fresh new year ahead.  Interestingly, however, the Biblical name for this holiday was not Rosh Hasnahah - literally, "the head of the year" - but rather, Yom Hazikaron - a day of remembrance.  It is telling that just as we are focusing our sights on the future, on a whole new year with limitless possibilities, we are invited to remember our past as well.  No doubt, it is our past that is supposed to inform our future vision, our goals for self improvement and self realization, in the year ahead.

But this is challenging.  Quite frankly, I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday morning (though, our daughter Mia tells me that I had cereal, and she's usually right about these sorts of things).  Am I really supposed to be able to remember all the way back to this time last year?  What were the goals I set for myself then?  What was my reality as 5772 was arriving?  About what was I excited, anxious, concerned?  What was I trying to work on then, and how did I do at achieving those goals over these past twelve months? 

While the rapidly developing technology in our lives brings with it the potential for both blessing and curse, I have discovered an online tool that has made this process of cheshbon hanefesh - an annual accounting of my soul - much more meaningful for those of us who have a challenging time recalling last year's goals and resolutions.  Last year, Ellen Dietrick, our Director of Early Childhood Learning, suggested that I visit  I created a free username and password, and during the Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was invited to answer one question each day.  Biggies like "Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?" or "Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year?"  Each day I shared real and heartfelt reflections on the question of the day.  Going through that process itself was renewing, cathartic, and transformative for me, but that's not even the best part.  The website then "locked my answers away in their secure vault" for an entire year, and this past week they e-mailed last year's answers back to me.  I had an immediate and real time reminder of where I was one year ago - how I've grown and how I haven't, where I've achieved and where I have not.  Soon, a new set of questions will begin to arrive, and this year's reflection process, informed by last year's, will begin again.  Whether you use the as a tool or not (and I recommend it highly!) I encourage each of us to engage in a similar ritual as we welcome a new year.  As Rabbis Byron Sherwin and Seymour Cohen teach:

"One of the most popular and regularly observed rituals in America is the annual medical checkup.  Each year, millions of people are examined, tested, and evaluated in order to determine the state of their physical health and well-being...When sickness is diagnosed, a regimen is prescribed to help restore health.  What may be ascertained during the examination period can lead to a change of life-style for the rest of the year, indeed, for the remainder of one's life.  During the High Holiday season, Jews undergo a kind of 'spiritual checkup.'" (Sherwin and Cohen, How to be a Jew, p. 59)

As you engage in your own rituals of spiritual checkup, may your memories of this past year inspire new growth, strengthened resolve, and fresh hope for the upcoming months of 5773.

Michele, Mia, and Adam join me in wishing you and your family a peaceful Shabbat and a new year that is filled with blessings and sweetness!

Shabbat Shalom v'L'shanah Tovah,


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