Today’s secular date is August 18, 2012. In the Jewish calendar today is Av 30, 5772.
One hundred and sixty-one years ago, on August 18, 1851, Thoreau wrote in his journal:
It plainly makes men sad to think. Hence pensiveness is akin to sadness.
Thoreau was no shirker when it came to thinking, and he claimed to be happy and joyful most of the time. Maybe he was talking about men other than himself?
Speaking of pensiveness, but not exactly sadness, the 30th of Av means it’s time to start my annual tradition of looking back at the past year of my life and figuring out what was good and what I need to change. Back in the summer of 2006 (or 5766, in the Jewish calendar), I bought a book called 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson (2003). I followed the guide’s directions for starting a journal for a period of 60 days. I drew up a list of “things I want to work on” in the coming year, in preparation for Rosh haShanah — which falls on Day 31 of the journey — and the other Jewish New-Year holidays. I divided my list into things “between me and Gd,” “between me and other people,” and “between me and myself.” I duly applied the categories “Intellectual,” “Emotional,” “Action-oriented,” and “Other.” (I didn’t need help coming up with this last category.) I double-checked the Jewish calendar to make sure I was ready to begin on the 30th of Av (which fell on August 24th that year). Then I set out on a 60-day journey/journal that changed my life.
The 60 days comprise the 30th (and last) day of Av, plus the 29 days of Elul, plus the 30 days of Tishrei (which contains Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simhat Torah.) The trip never fails to be long and strange, as well as bumpy and amazing. As Jacobson writes in his introduction,
The Hebrew calendar is like no calendar that exists in the world today. It is not a highway that progresses from past to future in linear fashion as does the Western calendar familiar to all. It is a spiral staircase that winds around, cycling through the events of history, drawing their energy ever upwards. (Intro., p. x)
Before reading this book I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent to which Elul is considered a month of introspection and spiritual accounting. In addition to the usual inviting of holiday guests, planning for family gatherings, and donating to our favorite charities, the month of Elul is when we’re supposed to start preparing for the internal, private aspect of beginning a new year. I hadn’t known that The Master of the Universe “comes out to meet us on our own turf” during Elul, that we have this prime opportunity to protest and be angry and demand “Why?!”
I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about the Jewish holidays, too. For example,
As the sun goes down before Rosh haShanah the universe goes into a comatose state. A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a standstill in cosmic silence, in appreciation of its contract being renewed. (p. 72)
Each year since 2006 I’ve repeated the process: Read the daily essay, ask myself that day’s questions, use the “Exercise for the day” to guide my journal entry. This year I decided to blog about my 60-day journey so I could invite readers to join in. You don’t need the book (although I do recommend it) or the free daily emails from Jacobson’s Meaningful Life Center. All you really need is to dedicate yourself to 60 days of writing a journal and doing some hard thinking. Ready?
Today is the 30th of Av. The theme is “Preparing to Take Stock.”
Ask yourself: Do you believe that self-transformation is truly possible? Do you want to change? Are you prepared to resolve to do so?
Exercise for the day: Open the journal that you have prepared for the accounting work that you will do this month, and in it record your answers to the above questions.