From now on each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life. We take time to review our lives from the previous year. We must begin by asking God for courage and strength We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past.
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Mathematics deals with dry numbers, whereas an "accounting of the soul," as suggested by its name, deals with matters of the heart and soul. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, gives a relevant parallel to the cheshbon hanefesh: the account and balance sheet every business creates yearly.
Now, who actually needs such an accounting? Only when the owner draws up a proper balance sheet does he know whether his business is profitable and the year successful. We, too, can be busy from morning to night, but once a year, we need to take time off to contemplate our most important "business"—that is, our service of our Creator. Have we progressed towards this goal in the past year?
Have we become better people, better Jews? Allow me to suggest a practical guide for conducting a cheshbon hanefesh. Step One: Draw two large squares on a paper. Next to each of these mitzvot, write down whether this is an area in which you incurred a profit or loss in the past year. Keep in mind that identical balance sheets can indicate a profit for one person and a loss for another. For example, a man who began putting on tefillin this year who writes, "I put on tefillin almost every day" has shown a profit; for someone putting on tefillin since the age of thirteen, it is considered a loss.
Step Four: The next two steps are the most important ones; without them, all the time invested in this accounting goes down the drain.
Take the "losses" of the year, and turn them into profits. Ask yourself, how can I be a better parent? How can I ensure that I put on tefillin daily?
How can I improve the atmosphere in my home? How can I devote more time to Torah study? And should I be expanding my business? A new mitzvah? A new relationship? Step Five: Until now, all the reckoning has been relatively quantifiable, and as such not so difficult.
This step takes it to another level altogether. Or to put it differently, to look at the inner soul workings that caused all the profits and losses. Why are you failing in certain areas? What is your perspective on life? How important to you are your relationships?
Do you have a deep-seated commitment to fulfill your spiritual calling in life? You can become a different person. This soul-searching is a cheshbon hanefesh. Such work takes time, and many a businessman shuts down his operations for a day in order to draw up his yearly report.
How To: "Soul Accounting" in 5 Steps
The same principle for success applies in the game of life. If you ask someone: Are you eating to live, or living to eat? Now ask them: What are you living for? But all too often, rather than trying to answer the question, the person escapes by turning on the TV or grabbing a newspaper. A man I know in Jerusalem was accidentally shot, and as a result became a paraplegic. While lying in the hospital, he was faced with this question: "What is life all about?