Chodesh Tov! The month of Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and taking stock as we prepare for the upcoming Days of Awe (yomim nora’im) when tradition has us standing before God in judgement on the year that has passed with the year to come in the balance.
In one of the most powerful prayer-texts found in Jewish liturgy, recited in a climactic moment during the Musaf service on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Unetana Tokef prayer proclaims that while the fate of every single human being is decided on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God’s decision can be mitigated by repentance, prayer, and acts of loving kindness.
Daniel Goleman, in his seminal book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1995) identifies five components of Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skill, and motivation. The first two components are core to our relationship with ourselves (bein adam leatzmo), and the second two regulate the way we interact with others (bein adam lechavero). We want to suggest that a mindful and present connection with God can lead to a stimulus reminiscent of Goleman’s final component, motivation.
Some two thousand years before Goleman’s research, Hillel presented similar ideas, as recorded in the Mishna, in the Ethics of the Fathers (1:14): If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? First and foremost, we must be concerned with our own state of mind and wellbeing. But if we are only inward looking, how can we justify such a self-centered outlook? Finally, Hillel decried procrastination, imploring immediate action.
Elul is the time to take stock and reflect on these three paradigm relationships, and make deliberate efforts to improve the relationships in our lives today!
Here are some resources on emotional intelligence which may be useful for the work you do:
The next Yesod newsletter (Tishrei 5780) will arrive in your inboxes by Sunday 29 September immediately before Rosh Hashanah (30 September-1st October). For those who would benefit from resources for the festivals of the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) in advance, you may like to check out Tishrei resources here.