Days of Awe 5779: Sanctifying Brokenness
1א
(כד) דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ יִהְיֶ֤ה לָכֶם֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן זִכְר֥וֹן תְּרוּעָ֖ה מִקְרָא־קֹֽדֶשׁ׃ (כה) כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֥ם אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיי׃ (ס)
(24) Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. (25) You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD.
2ב
(א) וּבַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ מִֽקְרָא־קֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ י֥וֹם תְּרוּעָ֖ה יִהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם׃
(1) In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded.
3ג

שיעור תרועה כג' יבבות: והתניא שיעור תרועה כשלשה שברים. אמר אביי בהא ודאי פליגי דכתיב (במדבר כט, א) יום תרועה יהיה לכם ומתרגמינן יום יבבא יהא לכון וכתיב באימיה דסיסרא (שופטים ה, כח) בעד החלון נשקפה ותיבב אם סיסרא מר סבר גנוחי גנח ומר סבר ילולי יליל

The length of a terua is equal to the length of three whimpers. The Gemara asks: Isn’t it taught in a baraita that the length of a terua is equal to the length of three shevarim, i.e., broken blasts, which presumably are longer than whimpers?

Abaye said: In this matter, the tanna’im certainly disagree. Although the first baraita can be reconciled with the mishna, this second baraita clearly reflects a dispute. As it is written: “It is a day of sounding [terua] the shofar to you” (Numbers 29:1), and we translate this verse in Aramaic as: It is a day of yevava to you. And to define a yevava, the Gemara quotes a verse that is written about the mother of Sisera: “Through the window she looked forth and wailed [vateyabev], the mother of Sisera” (Judges 5:28). One Sage, the tanna of the baraita, holds that this means moanings, broken sighs, as in the blasts called shevarim. And one Sage, the tanna of the mishna, holds that it means whimpers, as in the short blasts called teruot.

4ד
(כח) בְּעַד֩ הַחַלּ֨וֹן נִשְׁקְפָ֧ה וַתְּיַבֵּ֛ב אֵ֥ם סִֽיסְרָ֖א בְּעַ֣ד הָֽאֶשְׁנָ֑ב מַדּ֗וּעַ בֹּשֵׁ֤שׁ רִכְבּוֹ֙ לָב֔וֹא מַדּ֣וּעַ אֶֽחֱר֔וּ פַּעֲמֵ֖י מַרְכְּבוֹתָֽיו׃
(28) Through the window peered Sisera’s mother, Behind the lattice she whined: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why so late the clatter of his wheels?”
5ה

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 32.

When Abraham came from Mount Moriah, Samuel [Satan] was furious that he had failed to realize his lust to abort Abraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? He went off and told Sarah, “Ah Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in the world?” She replied, “no.” He said, Your old husband has taken the Boy Isaac and sacrificed him as a burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed in his helplessness [lit., for he could not be saved]. Immediately, she began to cry and wail. She cried three sobs, corresponding to the three Teki’ah notes of the Shofar, and she wailed three times, corresponding to the Yevava, staccato notes of the Shofar. Then, she gave up the ghost and died. Abraham came and found her dead, as it is said, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”

6ו

Avivah Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

Essentially, the suggestion is that Isaac's death cries, expressing the unsaveability of the creature in the grip of overwhelming forces, are echoed mimetically by Sarah, also fast in an irremediable anguish, and that these are reenacted in our ritual to redemptive effect. "The Shofar blasts on the New Year are to transform Sarah's death into atonement, because the Teru'ah — the broken Shofar tone — is groaning and wailing."

...The more obvious notion that the Shofar, the ram's horn, evokes the substitution of the ram for Isaac at the moment of actual sacrifice thus takes on a more tragic and paradoxical casts. Isaac is saved, and the Shofar announces the possibility of redemption, of symbolic substitutions. But Sarah is not saved, and yet the cries of her — and his — despair are retained in liturgy and ritual, "as atonement" for her descendants...The groans and wails of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana express the core dimension of human life: "it would have been better for man never to have been created." But in the very heart of this burning recognition arises the affirmative flame of the "very good." When the angel negates negation, when he calls out, "Do not raise your hand against the boy", Isaac is restored to life. But, at the same time, his ashes remain on the altar; the total surrender of the burnt offering, leaving no residue of hope, no tissue of illusion, is not neutralized. This core knowledge of paradox — "Without contraries there is no progression" (Blake) — is Isaac's radical experience, bequeathed to his children. Happy are the people know the Ter'uah [note of the Shofar]; O Lord, they walk in the light of Your presence" (Psalms 89:16). To know the brokenness, to hollow resonance of the Shofar, is to sharpen one's hearing for the affirmations of faith.

7ז

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Light of Repentance

The pain felt in the initial inspiration to penitence is due to the severance of the evil layers of the self, which cannot be mended as long as they are attached to and remain part of the person, and cause deterioration of the whole spirit. Through penitence they are severed from the basic essence of the self. Every severance causes pain, like the pain felt at the amputation of deteriorated organs for medical reasons. This is the most inward kind of pain, through which a person is liberated from the dark servitude to his sins and his lowly inclinations and their bitter aftereffects...

Every sin oppresses the heart because it disrupts the unity between the individual person and all existence. It can be healed through penitence, which is radiant with the light of the higher influence] of the ideal embodied in the uversal existence. Thereby it becomes possible for the harmony with all existene to become once again manifest in him; when he repents he finds healing. However, the basis of the anguish experienced is not merely the result of sin iteself. It is rather due to the basic nature of sin and the nature of the life process that has become disoriented from the order of existence, which is resplendent with divine light radiant in all being in unity and high purpose.

8ח
(יח) צָעֲק֣וּ וַיי שָׁמֵ֑עַ וּמִכָּל־צָ֝רוֹתָ֗ם הִצִּילָֽם׃ (יט) קָר֣וֹב יי לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵ֑ב וְֽאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־ר֥וּחַ יוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃

(18) They cry out, and the LORD hears, and saves them from all their troubles. (19) The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit He delivers.

9ט
(יח) כִּ֤י ׀ לֹא־תַחְפֹּ֣ץ זֶ֣בַח וְאֶתֵּ֑נָה ע֝וֹלָ֗ה לֹ֣א תִרְצֶֽה׃ (יט) זִֽבְחֵ֣י אֱלֹקִים֮ ר֪וּחַ נִשְׁבָּ֫רָ֥ה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּ֥ר וְנִדְכֶּ֑ה אֱ֝לֹקִ֗ים לֹ֣א תִבְזֶֽה׃
(18) You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings; (19) True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.
10י
(יח) קָר֣וֹב יי לְכָל־קֹרְאָ֑יו לְכֹ֤ל אֲשֶׁ֖ר יִקְרָאֻ֣הוּ בֶאֱמֶֽת׃ (יט) רְצוֹן־יְרֵאָ֥יו יַעֲשֶׂ֑ה וְֽאֶת־שַׁוְעָתָ֥ם יִ֝שְׁמַ֗ע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵֽם׃
(18) The LORD is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him with sincerity. (19) He fulfills the wishes of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and delivers them.
11יא
(טו) וַיִּכְל֥וּ הַמַּ֖יִם מִן־הַחֵ֑מֶת וַתַּשְׁלֵ֣ךְ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד תַּ֖חַת אַחַ֥ד הַשִּׂיחִֽם׃ (טז) וַתֵּלֶךְ֩ וַתֵּ֨שֶׁב לָ֜הּ מִנֶּ֗גֶד הַרְחֵק֙ כִּמְטַחֲוֵ֣י קֶ֔שֶׁת כִּ֣י אָֽמְרָ֔ה אַל־אֶרְאֶ֖ה בְּמ֣וֹת הַיָּ֑לֶד וַתֵּ֣שֶׁב מִנֶּ֔גֶד וַתִּשָּׂ֥א אֶת־קֹלָ֖הּ וַתֵּֽבְךְּ׃ (יז) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אֱלֹקִים֮ אֶת־ק֣וֹל הַנַּעַר֒ וַיִּקְרָא֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ אֱלֹקִ֤ים ׀ אֶל־הָגָר֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר לָ֖הּ מַה־לָּ֣ךְ הָגָ֑ר אַל־תִּ֣ירְאִ֔י כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֧ע אֱלֹקִ֛ים אֶל־ק֥וֹל הַנַּ֖עַר בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא־שָֽׁם׃
(15) When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, (16) and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, “Let me not look on as the child dies.” And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears. (17) God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy where he is.
12יב
(י) וְהִ֖יא מָ֣רַת נָ֑פֶשׁ וַתִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל עַל־יי וּבָכֹ֥ה תִבְכֶּֽה׃ (יא) וַתִּדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר וַתֹּאמַ֗ר יי צְבָא֜וֹת אִם־רָאֹ֥ה תִרְאֶ֣ה ׀ בָּעֳנִ֣י אֲמָתֶ֗ךָ וּזְכַרְתַּ֙נִי֙ וְלֹֽא־תִשְׁכַּ֣ח אֶת־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וְנָתַתָּ֥ה לַאֲמָתְךָ֖ זֶ֣רַע אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וּנְתַתִּ֤יו לַֽיי כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו וּמוֹרָ֖ה לֹא־יַעֲלֶ֥ה עַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃ (יב) וְהָיָה֙ כִּ֣י הִרְבְּתָ֔ה לְהִתְפַּלֵּ֖ל לִפְנֵ֣י יי וְעֵלִ֖י שֹׁמֵ֥ר אֶת־פִּֽיהָ׃ (יג) וְחַנָּ֗ה הִ֚יא מְדַבֶּ֣רֶת עַל־לִבָּ֔הּ רַ֚ק שְׂפָתֶ֣יהָ נָּע֔וֹת וְקוֹלָ֖הּ לֹ֣א יִשָּׁמֵ֑עַ וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ עֵלִ֖י לְשִׁכֹּרָֽה׃ (יד) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלֶ֙יהָ֙ עֵלִ֔י עַד־מָתַ֖י תִּשְׁתַּכָּרִ֑ין הָסִ֥ירִי אֶת־יֵינֵ֖ךְ מֵעָלָֽיִךְ׃ (טו) וַתַּ֨עַן חַנָּ֤ה וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲדֹנִ֔י אִשָּׁ֤ה קְשַׁת־ר֙וּחַ֙ אָנֹ֔כִי וְיַ֥יִן וְשֵׁכָ֖ר לֹ֣א שָׁתִ֑יתִי וָאֶשְׁפֹּ֥ךְ אֶת־נַפְשִׁ֖י לִפְנֵ֥י יי׃
(10) In her wretchedness, she prayed to the LORD, weeping all the while. (11) And she made this vow: “O LORD of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the LORD for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” (12) As she kept on praying before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth. (13) Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. (14) Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up!” (15) And Hannah replied, “Oh no, my lord! I am a very unhappy woman. I have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but I have been pouring out my heart to the LORD.
13יג
(טו) כִּי֩ כֹ֨ה אָמַ֜ר רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֗א שֹׁכֵ֥ן עַד֙ וְקָד֣וֹשׁ שְׁמ֔וֹ מָר֥וֹם וְקָד֖וֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּ֑וֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא֙ וּשְׁפַל־ר֔וּחַ לְהַחֲיוֹת֙ ר֣וּחַ שְׁפָלִ֔ים וּֽלְהַחֲי֖וֹת לֵ֥ב נִדְכָּאִֽים׃
(15) For thus said He who high aloft Forever dwells, whose name is holy: I dwell on high, in holiness; Yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit— Reviving the spirits of the lowly, Reviving the hearts of the contrite.
14יד
(ב) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֣ל יוֹנָ֔ה אֶל־יי אֱלֹקָ֑יו מִמְּעֵ֖י הַדָּגָֽה׃ (ג) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר קָ֠רָאתִי מִצָּ֥רָה לִ֛י אֶל־יי וַֽיַּעֲנֵ֑נִי מִבֶּ֧טֶן שְׁא֛וֹל שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי שָׁמַ֥עְתָּ קוֹלִֽי׃ (ד) וַתַּשְׁלִיכֵ֤נִי מְצוּלָה֙ בִּלְבַ֣ב יַמִּ֔ים וְנָהָ֖ר יְסֹבְבֵ֑נִי כָּל־מִשְׁבָּרֶ֥יךָ וְגַלֶּ֖יךָ עָלַ֥י עָבָֽרוּ׃
(2) Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish. (3) He said: In my trouble I called to the LORD, And He answered me; From the belly of Sheol I cried out, And You heard my voice. (4) You cast me into the depths, Into the heart of the sea, The floods engulfed me; All Your breakers and billows Swept over me.
15טו

Zohar 2:165a

It is written, "Serve God with gladness, come before Him with song". No sadness may be shown. What if a person feels pain and aguish? He cannot rejoice in his heart, and must seek mercy from the supreme King in the midst of his troubles. Should he desist from praying, since he cannot do so without sadness? He cannot make his heart rejoice and enter in gladness. What can such a person do? We are taught that other gates may be opened or closed, but the gate of tears is never closed. Tears are only the result of sadness and anguish. Those who oversee the ways of prayer break down all locks and bars, and bring in these tears. That person's prayer is then admitted before the Holy King.

16טז

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul with out a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after roaming through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.

To pray is to overcome distance, to shatter screens, to render obliquities straight, to heal the break between God and the world. A dreadful oblivion prevails in the world. The world has forgotten what it means to be human. The gap is widening, the abyss is within the self. Though often I do not know how to pray, I can still say: Redeem me from the agony of not knowing what to strive for, from the agony of not knowing how my inner life is falling apart.

I pray because I refuse to despair, because extreme denials and defiance are refuted in the confrontation of my own presumption and the mystery all around me. I pray because I am unable to pray. And suddenly I am forced to do what I seem unable to do. Even callousness to the mystery is not immortal. There are moments when the clamor of all sirens dies, presumption is depleted, and even the bricks in the walls are waiting for a song. The door is closed, the key is lost. Yet the new sadness of my soul is about to open the door. Some souls are born with a scar, others endowed with anesthesia. Satisfaction with the world is base and the ultimate callousness. The remedy for absurdity is still to be revealed. The irreconcilable opposites which agonize human existence are the outcry, the prayer. Every one of us is a cantor; every one of us is called to intone a song, to put into prayer the anguish of all. We pray because the disproportion of human misery and human compassion is so enormous. We pray because our grasp of the depth of suffering is comparable to the scope of perception of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon. We pray because of the experience of the dreadful incompatibility o how we live and what we sense. Dark is the world to me, for all its cities and stars. If not for my faith that God in His silence still listen to a cry, who could stand such agony?

17יז

Parker Palmer, The Soul in Depression (On Being Podcast)

Going into my experience of depression, I thought of the spiritual life as sort of climbing a mountain until you got to this high, elevated point, where you could touch the hand of God or see a vision of wholeness and beauty. The spiritual life, at that time, had nothing to do, as far as I was concerned, with going into the valley of the shadow of death. Even though that phrase is right there at the heart of my own spiritual tradition, that wasn’t what it was about for me. So on one level, you think, “This is the least spiritual thing I’ve ever done.” And the soul is absent, God is absent, faith is absent; all of the faculties that I depended on before I went into depression were now utterly useless.And yet, as I worked my way through that darkness, I sometimes became aware that way back there in the woods, somewhere, was this sort of primitive piece of animal life — just some kind of existential reality, some kind of core of being, of my own being; I don’t know, maybe of the life force generally — and that was somehow holding out the hope of life to me. And so I now see the soul as that wild creature way back there in the woods that knows how to survive in very hard places, knows how to survive in places where the intellect doesn’t, where the feelings don’t, and where the will cannot...I understand that to move close to God is to move close to everything that human beings have ever experienced. And that, of course, includes a lot of suffering, as well as a lot of joy.