The Shofar of Brokenness
The expression “Rosh HaShana” never appears in the Torah. Instead, the Torah refers to Rosh HaShana as “Yom Truah” or “Zichron Truah”. “Truah” – the broken blast of the shofar – is the essence of the day.
Maimonides writes that the blast of the shofar comes to wake us up, a shock forcing us to engage more fully with reality. What is the shofar waking us up to? The wake-up blast – “Tekiah” – is always followed by the broken blasts of Truah or Shvarim. The shofar comes to wake up to Truah, to brokenness.
Why? What is broken?
Everything. Me. You. The world. God created the world through the breaking of the vessels.
What does it mean to wake up to the brokenness of the world?
I think there are three possible responses to encountering brokenness:
- To fix it. Not to accept or be at peace with the brokenness: We are being eternally called to engage in the healing of this world. Jews are good at this.
- To deny it. Not to see the brokenness, to avoid and run away from it. This leads people to disconnection from parts of their reality and themselves.
- To accept it. There is a brokenness which is beyond the scope of our fixing, that we can only accept. Mortality is part of the physical world. Every individual has experienced broken relationships, dreams, health, etc., that tragically cannot be healed. Life deals us difficult cards. (Talmud, RH 33b)
Personally, I have usually focused on the first response – of striving to mend the brokenness.
But for me, this year, the second and third responses resonate more deeply. In the past, when I have encountered painful, frustrating, or exasperating situations – on the personal and national level – I have often either repressed the pain or just kvetched about it.
This year – the call of Truah – is waking me up to the heart-rending existence of brokenness, to accepting that there are parts of reality that I cannot fix.
For these 40 days – I’m going to work on both seeing the brokenness and not kvetching about it. No denial, no kvetching.
It may be a small thing in light of world events, but for me it is as hard as bicycling up Mt. Everest.
The poet and singer, Leonard Cohen, writes in his song, Anthem, that everything is cracked. “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The broken blast of the shofar is pleading with us not to deny or kvetch, to have the courage to live fully and rejoice in a broken world. To let the light in.
Aryeh Ben David is offering his latest book, “Soulful Education: WHY IMPARTING KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ENOUGH” to all Wexner friends and alumni at no cost. A PDF is available upon request (click here) and if anyone would like a hard copy, please send your home address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Aryeh taught at the Pardes Institute for 20 years, serving as the Director of Spiritual Education. In 2008 he founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Jewish Education. Through its online programs, Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals how to bring Jewish wisdom from our minds – to our hearts to our souls – and into our lives. Aryeh lives in Efrat with his wife Sandra and their 6 children.