I saw a video recently comparing how Americans are busy versus how people from other parts of the world are busy. I suspect it was a little heavy-handed in its portrayal of the American obsession with being busy, but there was definitely more than a kernel of truth in there.
Everyone I know is very busy. We don’t have enough time to do all the things we want to do. And the time that we do have, we want to maximize.
I also want to maximize my time. I have lists and charts and calendars to make sure that I am using my time as best as I can.
Now that it’s Elul, my desire to utilize my time well is greatly increased. There are the physical double demands for the holiday—the food that needs to be made, the clothing that needs to be purchased, the sheitels that need to be set, the special dishes or additions to the Yom Tov table, and so on.
There are also the spiritual demands—the cheshbon hanefesh, the reviewing of the machzorim, the thinking back over the whole year about where I’ve grown and where I’ve backslid.
For me, the spiritual work is much harder to make time for, partly because I am so busy with the physical work.
So, I present to myself (and also to you) some suggestions of how to integrate the spiritual work into the physical work so that it stands some chance of getting done.
Here are three of the things I want to focus on this Elul:
- The three parts of Mussaf: Malchuyos, Zichronos, Shofaros. I want to review them and learn them enough so that when I’m davening on Rosh Hashana, it’s not the first time I’m looking at them.
- Reviewing the list of Al Cheits from Yom Kippur. The back of my siddur has a whole expanded section which goes into which behaviors fall into which Al Cheit. I want to take one page at a time and think about which areas I need to work on.
- Review the four steps of teshuvah and apply them where necessary: Regret, Stop the action, Confession to Hashem, Plan for the future.
Here are some common times during my day when I could think about these things:
- Waiting in line at the grocery store
- At a red light
- In the carpool lane
- When my kids are getting dressed
- Waiting for a pot of water to boil
- Doing dishes
- Folding laundry
- Going for a walk
Additional ways to increase my spiritual consciousness during Elul:
- Listening to shiurim. Whenever I’ve tried to listen to a shiur while doing housework, I have never been able to concentrate the whole time, but am always grateful for whatever I do pick up. I feel like I end up hearing what I’m supposed to hear, and anyway, it’s still more than if I hadn’t listened to a shiur at all.
- Davening while making my food, like Henny Machlis, a”h. I found reading about how she would daven for her food to be spiritually nourishing for anyone who eats it very inspiring. It’s such a simple thing to do, and a beautiful way to imbue a very mundane task with spirituality.
- Talking to my children about the holidays, reading them books to prepare them for it, listening to a CD on that topic in the car.
Good luck to all of us as we prepare for this intense and holy time of year. May we grow as much as we can, and be kind to ourselves when we fall short. Kesivah VaChasimah Tovah!