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    Believe it or not, Elul is upon us! How do we juggle the seriousness, gravity and trepidation of Elul with the lazy days of summer? How can we relax and refuel during the month of August when, at the same time, in a month we’ll be facing our Maker for judgement over our fate and the fates of our loved ones. Before saying anything, I am acutely aware that for many people there is no difference between summer and winter. Especially those families where both spouses work full-time, the summer is business as usual. This article however, is zooming in on those who are fortunate enough to have some vacation time in August. Perhaps they are in the Catskills, the Hamptons, New Hampshire or some other vacation spot. How do we balance swimming and barbequing, snorkeling and canoeing, bowling and tennis with the old saying of the Baalei Mussar that, when we bentch Rosh Chodesh Elul, even the fish in the sea tremble?

    Actually, I believe that starting Elul while vacationing can be very beneficial. It gives us the time to reflect about our day-to-day routine when we are not in the midst of our daily grind. We have the luxury to give some serious time to making a careful cheshbon hanefesh, personal accounting. First, we look at our life from the moment we open our eyes and say Modeh Ani to the moment at night when we close them with Krias Shema Al HaMitah.

    Let’s remember that as Rosh Hashanah approaches, we’re not just asking Hashem to allow us to live another year. We beg Hashem that 5782 should be a better year; better health, better wealth, better marriage, better nachas, better friends. In short, better, better, better. Hashem says in response, “It’ll be My pleasure. After all, you are My beloved children. Just one thing. Realize that in Heaven We reward midah kneged midah-measure for measure. So just tell Me how you plan to be better and it will be My pleasure to give you better.”

    So, when we make a cheshbon hanefesh, it should be with an eye on how we can better our lives in each category. If we don’t wake-up with Modeh Ani, here’s a chance to start the day better. If we don’t wash our hands properly with nagel vasser, there’s another opportunity. Let’s do an analysis of what parts of davening we zip through. What a fertile ground for improvement are our prayers! So too, for many of us, our brachos and how we say them could use a complete overhaul. How we greet and interact with our spouse at the beginning and end of the day, and how we plan to improve upon this can greatly influence Hashem in giving us a better year.

    Likewise, our charity output, the time we spend learning Torah, the time we put into the vital mitzvah of kivud Av v’Eim, our concentration when we wear tefillin, our devotion to preparing for Shabbos, honoring the Shabbos, and escorting out the Shabbos, all will help determine the quality, the tranquility, and the pleasures of the oncoming year.

    Finally how we guard our mouths and our ears from the great evil of loshon hora-sinful gossip. And how we protect our eyes and minds from the immorality which is almost normally in todays society can enhance our chances for a real upturn in the coming year!

    So, let’s get to work on a brutal evaluation of our daily behavior and in the merit of sincerely trying to benefit ourselves, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and a very wonderful New Year.