A Water from the Well blog post, Chesbon Hanefesh
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Hodesh Tov! Today is the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) of the month of Elul. This last month of our Jewish year sets into motion, a period of introspection known as Cheshbon Hanefesh- taking an account of the soul. This month is dedicated to the inner work of assessing how and where we may have fallen short, reacted impulsively, damaged relationships. It is a time for honest self-reflection in order to begin the reparative work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This month we sound the shofar every day as a wake-up call, summoning the heart and mind to the task of repair.
Interestingly, Rosh Hodesh Elul is also a day marked by our tradition as the New Year for the Animals-Rosh Chodesh la’b’heimot. Perhaps our tradition is suggesting that a complete accounting of our behavior must also include our relationships with animals.
In a foundational Kabbalistic text, “The Palm Tree of Devorah,” Rabbi Moses Cordovero writes: [A person’s] mercies should be distributed to all the creatures, not despising them and not destroying them, for so is the highest (divine) wisdom distributed to all the creatures, silent and growing and moving and speaking (mineral, animal, vegetable, and human kingdoms).
Indeed, how much have we learned and continue to learn from our animal neighbors. What gifts they bestow upon us every day! How deep, self-sustaining and symbiotic is the interweaving of all life in this home we call earth.
In “The Spell of the Sensuous”, David Abram writes: Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyle to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence.
In our time it has become ever more clear that cheshbon hanefesh– a true accounting of ourselves must include all of our relations, the animal kingdom, the natural world, the earth in her entirety. It is time for a great turning, that is, a great teshuvah, and it begins with humble self-reflection. Let us consider the myriad ways we have benefited from animals, and the myriad ways we have contributed to their suffering, and to the current grand extinction of species. The work begins by looking and seeing, just as last week’s Torah portion began with the words, “Re-eh! – See! I set before you today a blessing and a curse.(Deut. 11:26)”
The choice is ours.
And we do indeed still have many choices before us. Most importantly we, as a people, possess a vision of hope for our future. Hosea the Prophet who lived in the 8th Cent. BCE spoke of a future time of transformation stating: In that day, I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus, I will let them lie down in safety.
Hosea envisions a day when peace and safety will fill the land, for all beings. He seems to acknowledge that peace for the animals and peace for humanity are interwoven and interdependent. Regarding this verse Rabbi David Seidenberg writes, “Not only will “nation not lift sword against nation”, but the human species will stop making war against the other species and against the earth.”
Ken Yehi Ratzon- May we have the strength to make it so!
On a final note, to aid in preparation for the High Holidays, Eliana Willis, our Cantorial Soloist, and I have put together a playlist of songs and music we will be using throughout our services. Click on the Playlist Link below. We encourage you to learn some of the new tunes in advance so that we can all enter more fully into the beautiful liturgy of this season.
May we all be blessed this month with quiet time to reflect and begin the process of making amends.