This week began the month of Elul, a time of introspection and self-appraisal. These are not entirely the same tasks. Introspection helps us understand our own motivations, thoughts, and emotions. Self-appraisal is concerned with our actions and how they affect other people.
These are naturally intertwined, since our actions spring from within. Yet it is remarkable how often what we do is not taken as intended. We say things that are misunderstood, gestures of tenderness that seem callous, help experienced as interference, restraint interpreted as indifference. We need to explore why we do unkind things, and also why we sometimes misjudge the impact of our intended kindnesses.
Each morning of this month we blow to shofar which is often described as an alarm clock for our consciences. It is a wordless blast, because there are so many different feelings, relationships and understandings that must be aroused or renewed in this time that no single statement could begin to capture them all. Elul is the time we most forcefully call to mind that we are broken, aspiring souls, climbing and falling, seeking in this year to be just a bit better than we were in the last.