Playing football in the street in front of my house with my neighbors. Playing catch in the backyard with my dad or brother. Riding my bike into town to get pizza and play video games. Or simply hanging out with my friends as we played pool and listened to music.
These are a few memories I have of growing up as a child in a small town in the Bay Area. While I know that I dealt with challenges or stresses back then, as I reflect back on that time now, I don’t really remember them. Could it be that although they felt significant at the moment I was confronting or dealing with them, upon reflection, they really were not that big of a deal? Could it be that time has provided a broader perspective to what I experienced? Has the memory of those challenges been replaced with more recent ones? Or is it that I repressed them because they were just too painful to remember and I did not yet understand how important it was for me to learn and grow from these experiences by reflecting on them as I got older?
I bring this up in this month’s column as we are about to enter the Hebrew month of Elul. Traditionally, as the final few weeks of the Hebrew year leading up to Rosh Hashanah and the start of the new year, this is a time that we are instructed to take some time to reflect on the year that was and begin the process of seeking forgiveness from those we may have wronged.
And to get us started in this process, our soul gets awoken from the stupor it has been in for the last several months, upon hearing the blast of the shofar. As a reminder, the shofar is blown each morning during Elul, except on Shabbat.
Close your eyes and try to remember the last time you heard the shofar. Did you just hear it or do you remember feeling it as the sound entered through your ears and rattled around your entire body in a way that no other instrument’s sound could?
I have always considered the shofar to be my Jewish alarm clock. While at times I have tried to hit “snooze”, each time I hear it I am reminded that it is time to wake up, roll out of bed, and get started on the day’s work.
In the case of Elul, the day’s work is all about looking back at how I conducted myself during this past year. Did my actions (or inactions) adversely affect someone else? Was I kind with my words? How could I have remained calmer or handled myself differently in a particular situation? Did I use my time effectively? In essence, how could I have been a better version of myself?
It is not always easy to do this. For some of us, we find it uncomfortable to look back at a situation because it either brings back bad memories or we may be embarrassed by how we acted. However, in order for us to grow, this is a critical step, even if it makes us uncomfortable. It is part of the process for the life-long learning of ourselves.
I encourage all of us to find some time these next few weeks and commit to reflect on the past year. And if you need to use the Shofar to do so, that’s okay… just don’t hit the snooze button too many times.