Listing Your Fears and Hopes to Prepare for the High Holidays

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A rabbi advocates a practical way to tackle our fears and hopes for the coming year in advance of the High Holidays. 

I’m advocating a new angle on cheshbon nefesh, the “accounting of the soul,” that we do in preparation for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This soul work begins with the ancient Greek dictum, “know thyself.” Or, to put it more rabbinically: “Know before whom you stand.” I ask myself: What am I afraid of? Deep down, what are my real hopes?


An investment of time and focus in anticipation of the holidays elevates the experience. Without the prep work, is there any doubt that five-hour services could be a drag? It’s like showing up to an Olympic marathon having not stretched, not worked out, and perhaps not having run in an entire year — or more. The results won’t be good.

I base my approach on practices of the Penn Resiliency Project of Positive Psychology.

This accounting tackles our fears and hopes for the coming year head-on and in a practical way.

Here are the steps:

For each of the categories of your life — friends, relationships with each family member, work, personal health, etc. — do the following:

• List three things that you are most afraid will happen in the coming year — and be honest about those fears.

• List three things that you deeply hope will happen in the coming year.

• List three things that are most likely to happen this year.

You’ve just put pen to paper about your worries and your hopes as well as what is most realistically going to happen. Reality is most often found in that middle ground between worst and best.

Next:

• For each of your fears listed, give yourself three simple steps to take to prevent the worst from happening.

• For each of the things you hope will happen this year, give yourself three simple steps that would help make that happen.

Having the opportunity to be honest about our hopes and fears, and creating realistic steps about how to prevent or coax them along, has a tremendous empowering effect on our spiritual preparation for the New Year. It leads to greater joy and greater optimism. l

Rabbi Tsafi Lev is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. He is the rabbinic director of New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, Calif., and a lecturer for the Fingerhut School of Education Master of Arts in Education program at the American Jewish University. This story originally appeared on the Rabbis Without Borders blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
As we approach the High Holidays, we want to hear what you would like your rabbi to sermonize about this year?
Send us your thoughts, along with your name and synagogue (if you choose), in 100 words or less, to [email protected]­exponent.com.

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