High Holy Day Soul-Work, Part 2
The overarching theme of the High Holy Days is acknowledging brokenness and seeking wholeness.
In last week’s blog post, I wrote about how essential it is for each of us to “do our own soul work” during the month of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah.
Several core stories provide the metaphors we need on this journey from brokenness to wholeness.
Here’s one: At Mt. Sinai, God gave Torah (teaching) to the Jewish people, represented by the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets (luchot). This Mt Sinai encounter, however, is so much more.
Sinai As Marriage
At Sinai, the entire people (kol ha’am) experienced a union and connection with the Divine at the deepest level.
The text itself reads like a mystical union (Exodus 19-20).
In our sage’s minds, Sinai was akin to a marriage ceremony. We said “yes” to a binding, intimate relationship with God. The very notion of God as a partner is radical. Think about it: we commit to an invisible God that is All That Is/Ever Was/Will Be.
However, as we read in the story, this commitment was too difficult for the people to maintain and so when Moses went back up on the mountain, the people lost connection with the “unseen” God.
They fell back into old patterns: they built a golden calf. Their first “infidelity”.
Moses hears about the golden calf, comes back down the mountain, and smashes the tablets to the ground. Their sacred relationship is shattered.
To the rabbis, the building of the golden calf represented a profound betrayal of nothing less than the very marriage vows the people made with God. Moses decides he wants to repair the relationship and heads up back the mountain to plead with God to forgive the people. The beginning of his petitions happens on Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the month of Elul).
Let’s take it forward into our own lives.
The golden calf story is about us and the way we have become estranged from holiness and unity. It’s about losing connection and forgetting what our commitments are. We forget, we veer off the track. Many of us pray at the altar of the “quick and easy.”
Some of us abandon the vows we have made to our own selves or to the people we care about.
Most of us forget what is truly important.
We have the opportunity to acknowledge what is broken in our own lives, throughout the High Holy Day season. This month, the shofar blows each day, and beckons us to search our past year (or lifetime) for what needs to be healed.
We bear witness to the ruptures we have experienced and committed in our relationships, with our own selves, in our communities and with God.
Moses was/is successful in “convincing” God to forgive us for our transgression of the golden calf.
Our hope is that we, too, will be forgiven for how we have strayed.
We receive a second set of tablets! When? On Yom Kippur! In the liturgy (prayer) of Kol Nidre, we read these words that God spoke to us: “salachti ki devareicha: I forgive you, as you have asked.”
You might think that after receiving a second set of tablets, the first, shattered set, would be discarded. Who wants the memory of betrayal hanging around?
But no, the rabbis tell us that the broken tablets were kept, right alongside the new whole ones in the same traveling ark (mishkan).
This is a profound teaching: We carry our brokenness with us.
Not as a reminder of where we went wrong, or what has befallen us, but with the knowledge that this, too, has shaped us. Also, not everything that is broken can be fixed. Some relationships are unhealthy, and it is a betrayal to our best selves to stay in them.
Elul journal questions for this week:
- Where have there been betrayals this year (even self-betrayals)?
- What basic commitments have you forgotten?
- In what ways have you veered off your path?
- What has been shattered this year? How have you been complicit?
- What brokenness do you need to acknowledge in order to create wholeness in your life and relationships?
For your free High Holiday Spiritual Checklist, click here.
*adapted from my 6 week series on Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days originally published in the Jewish Journal