The rabbis compare the broken sound of the shofar to a moan, whimper or cry.
They offer several images:
- Sarah when she heard about the akedah (and thought that Isaac had died)
- The mother of Sisera (Israel’s enemy) when Sisera is slain
- Our broken heart and shame over our transgressions
Questions for discussion:
- In your experience, what is the connection (if any) between tears and teshuva?
- Read the poem below. How does this poem resonate (or not) with you? What does it add to your discussion of tears and teshuva?
Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, American-Israeli writer, journalist, and public speaker
Let your grief course through you
Like a great, grand river.
Its journey to the sea is long and winding
Sometimes, the rapids.
You are quite sure you will get lost. Drown.
Sometimes, the water flows so slowly,
you are sure you will be moored, forever.
Carving caverns and cracks in the sandstone
It will change you
It will shape you
Oh beautiful, brave soul
Do not build a dam,
Build a raft.
Hold on, allow.
For this is your sacred journey home
A holy gift for the patient, openhearted.
Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye - 1952-
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness….
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing…..
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Talmud, Berachot 32b
Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked and prayer is not accepted as it once was, as it is said in lamentation of the Temple’s destruction: “Though I plead and call out, God shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked with the destruction of the Temple, the gates of tears were not locked.
- How do you understand the ideas of the “gates of prayer” and the “gates of tears” How do prayer and tears function for you in moments of loss or distress?
- Have there been times when tears opened something that prayer, or even words,couldn’t? What is the role of tears or other expressions of vulnerability in the process of change/ liberation?
- We dip parsley (symbol of renewal and spring) into salt water (symbol of tears)? What do you imagine is the relationship between renewal and tears? Between tears and liberation?
And so on Rosh Hashana we come to shul to hear the sobbing voice of the shofar, crying out for us – crying like Hannah, like Sarah, like Hagar, as we join with our community, so that we can raise up our voice in a roar of sorrow and pain for the things that were not right this year, that we hope will change in the future, a great sobbing cry that lifts the hairs on our necks and rises up to God, so that our one voice can rouse the rachamim, the mercy of God, that God’s rechem, womb, will open for us, and will give birth to something new, a year of forgiveness, and hope and reconciliation.
Rabbi Alana Suskin