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Spiritual Accounting and the Book of Life from an Accountant's Perspective

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

My mom spent much of her career as a math teacher and as comptroller of a real estate company. My dad, alav hashalom, was an accountant.  I have two brothers, Michael and Philip- both accountants.  I, on the other hand?  The last math class that I completed was 10th grade geometry.  Bookkeeping is not my strength.

Yet- here we are on the verge of a new year, tasked with “cheshbon ha-nefesh- spiritual accounting.”  It’s time to review the books from 5776, close them out, and open up a new ledger.  Alan Morinis describes this process, “Like an accountant reviewing a company’s books, the ‘accounting of the soul’ practice gives you the tools you need to ‘audit’ your inner life. . . You are guided to peek into the old shoeboxes and sort out the musty files of what lives in your deep interior in order to generate an accurate and transparent balance sheet of your life.”

As we focus on the Book of Life, I asked some of the accountants in our community how they understand this concept of cheshbon ha-nefesh through the lens of their own work.  Robyn Young noted how, when the books are closed, its nice to do a quick review of each transaction.  The books should only be closed when they have been tested.  “I think,” she writes, “that is (more) what Rosh HaShanah is about.  Testing the honesty of your actions in the prior year.”  Robyn also shared a handy accounting concept- “immaterial.”  Yes, each detail is vital when you close a set of books.  And, allowance is made for details that are so small that, as she puts it, they can be “swept under the accounting rug.”  I think that is great guidance for us as we enter into these Yamim Noraim- we need honest accounting of all the details, and, we need to NOT get so bogged down in those details that they impede our ability to move forward.

Diana Feldman finds it exciting to close out a year.  It is also, she reminds us, hard work and time consuming.  We need to evaluate what we learned in the year that is ending, assess the results, and create a plan to accomplish our mission and goals.  This is indeed an accurate description of the task we face on these Yamim Noraim.  Diana offers the comforting perspective that even if our personal “expenses” exceeded our personal “revenue,” “with the proper intentions (we) can still be written in the book of life.  I think that what she is calling “intentions” is what our tradition calls teshuvah, the process of fearlessly facing where we have gone wrong, making amends to those we have hurt, and committing to return to the path of the good and the right.

I’ll conclude with Diana’s words- “I think that in our life we can be better moving forward if we take the time to reflect, organize, and plan for the next day, week, month, year.”  To which we say- yes, amen, selah!

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