Those who take the tradition seriously will endeavor to ensure that their actions and words are more deliberate during this month. When an entire community practices this type of mindfulness the intensity of the mood is palpable. This is what one can feel in the religious enclaves of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, New York and countless other centers of religious Judaism across the world.
This month, long practice of introspection and mindfulness is very potent and because of the depth of this tradition there are numerous Jewish books that explain how this practice should be carried out. As a result, the Jewish tradition has a wonderful and rich literature that guides a person how they may change their lives for the better and become a more positive and productive person.
But this practice of intense introspection and mindfulness is not limited to a religious application.
Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Many, if not most, humans fall into this category. Whether it is in our relationships, in our business or in any other area of our lives, we often do not realize that our failures are the result of a tired strategy that is no longer effective. We don’t recognize this because we are not self reflective. We go through life on autopilot without taking note of how we are acting, interacting or speaking. It is only after others point something out that we start to notice.
The Kabbalistic magnum opus “The Zohar” says that each evening one should make a calculation of everything one did or said during the day. This increases mindfulness. If one is consciously aware and mindful of each action undertaken and each word uttered then everything one does will be properly calculated and thought out.
The great Hassidic masters used to practice mindfulness to an incredibly high level. It is said about the famous Hassidic master Rabbi Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhyn (1797-1850) that he would not move a limb without first having a well thought out reason why he should do so.
This level of mindfulness only occurs when one is extremely careful to keep a detailed calculation of all of one’s actions and speech. For the spiritual seeker there is obviously tremendous benefit in this practice. But it is valuable for all people as well—it simply helps us avoid making the same mistake twice and it also allows us to be more productive by cutting out wasted effort.
The beauty of Judaism is that it institutes this type of practice into the calendar and during Elul it prescribes an entire month of intensive mindfulness and introspection during. For those who follow this practice seriously it has a positive impact on the entire year to come—they are able to obtain a sweet New Year on multiple levels.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts
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