The Broken and the Whole
Prepping Our Whole Selves
Earlier this week, the Jewish people brought in the Hebrew month of Elul. The last month of the year before the High Holy Days begin, it is a month that is filled with an immense amount of physical, spiritual, and emotional prep work for the Jewish New Year. One of the ways the Rabbis try to enhance that is having fun with a little bit of wordplay.
Their methodology with this is taking words and making acronyms out of them. So, using the name of the month, Elul, אלול in Hebrew, they take those four letters and make phrases out of them.
One of the more well known of them (pictured above) is the phrase Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li, I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. Taken from the book of Song of Songs, it reflects on God’s imminence during this time of year. The Rabbis’ hope that we rekindle the flame in that relationship during this hallowed season.
In addition to this classic interpretation, there is one that is speaking to me this year more than others. It comes from Rabbi Nathan Spira, a Polish Rabbi and early Kabbalist from the 16th/17th centuries. He took the letters from ELUL and interpreted them to mean Aron, Luchot, V’shivrei Luchot-The ark, the tablets, and the broken tablets.
If we remember the moment of revelation on Sinai, there was a first set of tablets that was broken by Moses on sight of the people committing the sin of the golden calf. Those shattered pieces though were not left on the mountain. Tradition tells us that they accompanied the whole second set of tablets throughout the rest of the journey.
What is broken is not discarded. In fact, one could argue, it enhances that which is whole, supplementing it, and given it strength. Could there be a more powerfully human concept to think about right now?
Elul is a time that is built upon soul searching, looking deeply inward with serious intent. It is not a process that happens unless we are serious about it. Every year we are broken. Especially after these past 17 months, we are more broken. Our world is filled with grief, anxiety, and fear. Certainly, there is hope too but we’ve already recognized this trajectory is not linear. It stops and starts in fits. We are still languishing.
Yet, we carry that brokenness with us. Our Western culture, so focused on self-help and reaching the pinnacle, might say keep on moving or let it go. Judaism tells us though we have to bring the brokenness with us because it’s only with the pairing of the broken and the whole that we can actually move. If we leave it behind and ignore it, then we never actually learn the lessons it has to impart.
This is made even more clear by the fact that two of the three notes that we blast on the Shofar are the shevarim and the truah, the staccato like bursts that awaken us on the High Holy Days. The former of them even carries the same etymological root of “brokenness.” It is as if the Shofar itself is telling us, “it’s ok that you are broken for I am broken too.”
May this month of Elul be one in which we can access and be in conversation with the deepest parts of our hearts and souls. May we have the clarity and self-awareness to recognize the ways in which we came up short. May we all find the strength to carry the shattered pieces of ourselves right alongside that which is whole within us.