The Importance of Taking Stock of Ourselves

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayakel-Pekudei 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

When G-d wished to create man, He asked the angels their opinion. The angel “Kindness” responded, “Create man, for he performs kind deeds.” “Truth” agreed that man should be created… “Charity” likewise said, “Create him, for he performs charitable deeds.” Yet “Peace” said not to create man for man sows strife.
G-d responded, “While you were arguing, I created man” (Bereshit Rabbah). But G-d did not pass judgement on the angels’ words. Man therefore spends his entire life hanging in the balance: should he have been created or not? And it is he himself who determines, every moment, whether or not he is worthy of his existence.
Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai argued over this very question: was it better for man to have been created or not? And their conclusion was, “Now that he has been created, let him scrutinize his deeds, or as some say, let him scrutinize his good deeds for negative components” (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 3).
A person must therefore take stock of himself on a daily basis. “Therefore, those in control say, ‘Let us enter into an accounting’” (Bemidbar 21:27). Those saintly people who have control of their evil impulses provide us with advice grounded in experience: 'Let us take an accounting' – Take stock of yourself daily. You should have a set time each day to be alone for this purpose (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 3).
Magen Avraham writes that the best time for this is bedtime. A person should scrutinize his deeds well, and resolve not to repeat any sins that he discovers in his behavior that day, especially common sins like flattery, falsehood, irreverence and evil gossip (Orach Chaim 139, Magen Avraham #7).
Rabbi Eliyahu Di Vidas (Reshit Chochma, Sha’ar Ha-Kedushah, Chapter 7) likewise writes that before bedtime one should record the day’s deeds so as not to forget that he has sins to be rectified, as it says, “I am ever conscious of my sin” (Tehilim 51:5).
Rabbi Ya’akov Emden similarly writes that if someone committed a sin during the day he should record it at night in his ledger when he has free time, as did Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha (Shabbat 12b), thereby fulfilling the verse quoted from Tehilim. Moreover, he should remember to make amends (Siddur Bet Ya’akov, Bet Ha-Laila, Cheshbon Berachot, par. 5).
And in the sefer “Seder Olam” we find: “It is a Mitzvah to undertake the yoke of Heaven before going to sleep. The reason is that sleep constitutes one sixtieth of death, and before one departs from the world it is best for one to undertake the yoke of Heaven, and to proclaim one’s love and reverence for G-d. For the same reason some have the practice of reciting the 'Vidui' confessional… for no one knows when his time is up. We’ve seen many people go to sleep and not wake up. It is thus appropriate to recite a general confession, and also to specify one’s personal sins from that day. Moreover, he should ask forgiveness of everyone to whom he caused pain or about whom he spoke poorly. And if others were guilty of doing the same to him, he should forgive them with all his heart and soul" (Seder Keriat Shema Al Ha-Mitah).
The Zohar teaches, “Every night, before one goes to sleep, he should make a calculation regarding the deeds he did all that day, and he should repent from his sins and ask G-d’s mercy.” (Zohar Korach, 178:1)
Rav Kook wrote: “Wickedness in the world finds its base in man, and it increasingly takes up residence in him. Daily it is emboldened, weakening man’s ability to exalt himself and to ascend to goodness. Man’s evil impulse overcomes him every day. Man cannot manage without regular prayer, one component of which should be confession. A person has got to confess his sins, those committed openly, those committed furtively, and those kept a total secret. He must confess his proclivity for evil, which engulfs him constantly. When the purity of prayer and confession is present every single day, when man’s personal calculation is not something he forgets, then he will gradually be able to shake off his evil, before it has a chance to deceive him so badly that he can no longer raise his head. People who make such calculations daily rid themselves of their daily wickedness. Before their normal bedtime, they confess on behalf of themselves and the whole world. They at least register a protest over their own and their people’s wickedness wherever it turns up. By such means they keep themselves in sync with goodness and holiness, and elevate themselves to lives of holiness, drawing sustenance from the wellspring of goodness. ‘Into Your hand I entrust my spirit’" (Tehilim 31:6. Orot Ha-Kodesh 3:302).
A story is told about a holy individual who would record on paper every deed that he committed during the day that was against G-d’s will. He would not go to sleep until he had wept so much that his tears blotted out all that he had written (Likutei Maharich, Seder Kriat Shema She-Al Ha-Mitah).