In the United States, April is book-keeping month. In Judaism, it’s Elul. Teshuvah involves a process of auditing ourselves, checking our books, the black columns and the red ones. Why the U.S. chose April, I don’t know – but Elul was chosen for this purpose because it’s a month when G-d’s 13 Attributes of Mercy are most revealed.
After all, we often face unpleasant surprises in our books – gaps where we thought we were solid, or hard evidence of what we suspected all along. We can get depressed; even feel as hopeless as Ghana’s economy. So knowing that G-d stands by, waiting with mercy, is a comfort.
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, related that there are set times for making our cheshbon ha’nefesh – spiritual accounting.
· For each day, it’s when we recite the Shema before going to sleep
· For each week, it’s our Thursday night Shema before going to sleep
· For each month, it’s the evening before Rosh Chodesh, the new month
· For each year, it’s the month of Elul.
Once we’ve tallied up our figures, the reality of where we are and where we need to be sets in. Perhaps even, we’re forced to admit that the gap is fairly large. Looking back, we see moments when we could have chosen better. We resolve not to make these errors again. Confession, regret, resolutions for the future, making amends to those we've hurt. That’s all part of doing teshuvah.
How will we know that our teshuvah has been successful? When we face our personal demons again, find ourselves back in that same rut -- but this time we make better choices. This is the proof that we’ve really turned over a new leaf, that we’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
But what if substantial time has passed without a reckoning? The IRS has amnesty programs for tax scofflaws; the teshuvah process can also apply to any era of one’s life – last week, last year, even last decade. And here's an amazing thing: when we return to G-d because of our love for Him, we disrupt the space-time continuum and retroactively turn the energy of our sins into a powerful expression of love and connection.
Overwhelmed by where to start? Here’s some good advice from a Google guy. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html
(Just about the amount of time we have left until Rosh Hashanah!)