By Adam Frankenberg
Whether or not I enter the Yamin Noraim, the Days of Awe, highly prepared spiritually or at the last minute and in great haste, somehow they never fail to work their magic and have a cathartic effect.
The combination of the liturgy, the special music and, of course, time for reflection and self-evaluation has always felt powerful.
In the modern world, opportunities for self-reflection are infrequent. One such place is the therapeutic encounter, although this often lacks the explicitly spiritual dimension of the High Holy Days.
One aspect shared by both therapy and the Days of Awe is a focus on an honest appraisal of the past and of our personal actions. For the purposes of both teshuvah (repentance) or therapy, very little can be possible if we are not prepared to be honest with ourselves.
An additional aspect, which is common to both the teshuvah process and the therapeutic one, is the belief that change is possible – provided we actually want to change. Some techniques of therapy and of preparation for the High Holy Days mirror each other.
One, as mentioned, is self-reflection and a simple act of being present in the moment, be that the synagogue or therapist’s office. Another one is documentation. In a therapeutic context, one might be asked to keep a daily record of thoughts and feelings so as to be able to notice patterns and monitor changes.
Similarly, the practice of cheshbon nefesh, literally soul accounting, is a spiritual practice undertaken at this time.
At its most basic, cheshbon nefesh is a summing up of the past year, in terms of opportunities left unused and actions taken that should not have been, coupled with a determination that the following year should give a better return on the balance sheet of an audit of our souls.
As individuals, we might not be able to change the whole world in one go, but with a little work and reflection we might be able to change ourselves and, little by little, alter the world in which we live.
• Adam Frankenberg is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College