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Cheshbon Hanefesh

Below are some of my notes on cheshbon hanefesh from shiurim I have heard by Rav Berkovits shilta. I found the shiurim very inspiring and practical and thought it may be worthwhile sharing. I hope you find this beneficial. (I apologise for any inaccuracies that may have crept in, and also for the brevity for some points.)

How to go about doing a cheshbon hanefesh - some guidelines:

1. Recognise how special you are (chelek Elokai mimal) - if you don't think so it’s your yeitza hora telling you that;


2. Identify what positive character traits you have that make you special;
3. With the above character traits, how should you be using them to maximise your potential and achieve your individual shlaymus (don't try and be someone you are not - we all have the ability to be perfect, but everybody's perfect is different);
4. See which negative character traits are holding you back from achieving this - don't focus on specific actions (yet). For example, one can ask: why am I not as good as I can be in my hasmada, why am I not as good a husband as I would like to be, why am I not able to celebrate other people's success, etc.;
5. Now look for specific actions for each of these negative character traits;
6. Select one or two (three might be too much, but certainly not more) of these negative character traits and for each of these pick an action which is easiest to fix. These actions should occur at least weekly, but preferably daily;
7. Find a way to quantify these actions. For example, if it is an action in anger, one could assess it by looking at how quickly it took to become angry, how long the anger lasted, how intense it was, etc. This enables one to more objectively monitor the progress, as opposed to more of an emotional appraisal of the action.

Additional eitza:
• Set a realistic goal for how frequently you can do your cheshbon hanefesh. The more regular the better, but be careful of setting yourself up for failure. It should also be short (about 5 minutes).
• Your cheshbon hanefesh is personal - you don't need to show your spouse etc. • Do a special act on the day you do your cheshbon hanefesh (visit the sick, and act of chesed, etc.) - try not to do it on Shabbos (this applies when you aren’t doing your cheshbon hanefesh daily).
• After doing point 4 above, the feelings of anger etc. that result by thinking of where you could have been, should be used to give yourself the energy to change. In addition, one should also strive to develop hatred towards those negative character traits. Without a genuine charota, your kabala l’haba won’t amount to much. Also, ahavas Hashem should propel you to grow and motivate your actions. Yiras Hashem should help keep your actions realistic and in check (we don't want to fool ourselves).
• Trust your judgement - your brain is perfectly suited for you to maximise your potential.
• Starting with the easier actions allows one to gain momentum and start to enjoy the tremendous simcha of growth. In addition, the easiest actions to fix are the one’s which one bears the most culpability for (precisely because they are the easiest to fix). However, as much as we are focusing on fixing the actions, this must not detract from the point that ultimately we want to eliminate the negative middah that these actions are a manifestation of. One has to think things through until the ideas really penetrate and you feel it. But of course one has to work on the actions else it won’t change, but that alone won’t eradicate the negative middos, they will just manifest in other ways. The primary change is internal. • Behavioural - hilchos dei'os (go to opposite extreme) e.g. slight sweet addiction, neglecting to spend time with one's children (the type of behaviour where you only have to remind yourself of what you are doing in order to stop) • Mindset (deep rooted/emotionally ingrained) - hilchos teshuva (commitment to mitzvos/mussar etc.) e.g anger. You need to become a chocham - wisdom is integrating that which you know to be true, such that the emes you know impacts on a subconscious level. Thus, the start of chochma is learning Torah. Knowing something doesn't mean it will automatically be integrated (e.g. smokers, ma'asim with Noach, Avraham and Moshe).
• You won't grow by just getting older. Your negative traits are likely to get worse and become harder to fix.
• Daven for siyata d'shemaya during this powerful time.

Rosh Hashana:

• The teshuva of R”H is one of aspirations. We need to not only raise our levels, but make a commitment to actualise our individual greatness. Doing a cheshbon hanefesh allows us to clarify what this is, and develop a pratical game plan for getting there.
• In the beginning of the R”H davening we say “zecher l’chayim” – what are we really asking for? Real life is one of growth, and that means overcoming challenges. Since we have a principle that we don’t ask Hashem for challenges, how can we do so on R”H of all days? The answer is that when we come to R”H with a realistic way in which we intend to grow and reach our potential, then we can plead to Hashem to give us that which we need to enable us to achieve our goals. This realistic plan is our cheshbon hanefesh – showing Hashem that we are self-motivated and aren’t waiting for challenges from Hashem in order to make us grow. Rather we are going to push ourselves to become big people. With that being the case, Hashem is prepared to invest in us.

Yom Kippur:

• What is the chiddush of teshuva on YK? Adam, Cayin, etc. did teshuva! YK is different because we got the second set of luchos. The tremendous power of the zman of YK is that not only can we wipe the slate clean, but we can get back the levels that we would have had if we had not done these aveiros! (Based on R Hirsch’s translation of “V’selachtah unchaltanu” meaning “we’ll inherit of ourselves that which was formerly lost because of our transgressions”.)
• Since transgression is a reality that really damages, it’s a miracle that we can do teshuva! The miracle of YK is that you can redo your past.
• A genuine vidui is not just clapping ‘al chet’ for all the things you did wrong, but locating your area of responsibility for those aveiros that you did wrong (your nekudas habechira). You need to think through your aveiros and get it clear how destructive it is to you. E.g. do I like the way I am when I’m angry?
• Find your issues and understand what they are – how your mind is wired and what your general attitudes to the issues are. Unless you know what the underlying issues are, you’re bound to repeat the aveiros again.
• Most of us would choose to become another Chofetz Chayim because we’re good people. You don’t really know what your abilities are until you give it a try.

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