Saturday, September 20, 2008

That's How the Light Gets In: Elul Waning Moon

The moon is waning and we are coming to the last of the four weeks of Elul, the month of turning in the Hebrew calendar. Tonight we begin the season of T'shuvah in earnest with the ceremony S'lichot, when in the middle of the night we stand before the Holy Ark to pray for renewed hearts and a return to the paths that lead to life. I love the moment when the Ark is opened and we see the Torah Scrolls, robed in white for the first time as the High Holy Days begin.

There is a story from Kabbalah, from the Book of Creation. It is said that the Eyn Sof--Eternal, without boundaries--performed tzimtzum, a process of contraction, so that there would be space for matter and for human free will. In the process of tzimtzum, matter and choice were created, the vessels intended to contain the light--the creative power of the universe. But as the light poured into the vessels, they were not able to contain the Eyn Sof--Infinity--and they shattered, spreading the shards of the vessels and the creative sparks across the universe. And it is the job of the human being, who possesses the free will that even the angels do not have, to separate the sparks from the shards and lift them up from world to world. This work is the holy work of Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world.

At the time of my life when I was at the lowest of the low, and suffering from existential angst brought on by cancer, one of my teachers recognized that my perfectionism was at the root of my emptiness. And he gently asked me in Hebrew, "What world are you in, daughter?" And I said that I was at the lowest world. And he said, "Even at the lowest world, there are sparks to lift up." And I was comforted.

It is very tempting still for me to let the perfect become the enemy of the good, thus inducing in myself a paralysis and I sense that I am unworthy to do the work of Tikkun Olam. And as I go about the work of Elul, the work of T'shuvah, it is really easy to go there. But that is a shard of memory from which I must lift the sparks of creative power, for no human being is unworthy of the task, every human being is uniquely powerful and capable of lifting sparks of light.

And this week, again, Leonard Cohen is my guide. It seems fitting, for his is a spirituality of finding the Holy within the imperfect, the ephemeral, but infinitely rare and precious nature of the human.

As I prepare for S'lichot tonight, I will remember the joy in the moment of seeing that it is through the shards, the cracks in the vessels, that the creative power was released into the universe, the power of human free will.

"Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in..."

The world that we have is living and beautiful, and infinitely varied. It is alive and ever-changing. It is full of the creative power of energy, and it is therefore not perfect.


Kaber said...

Do you really open an ark and see scrolls? Where did you get Torah Scrolls?

Good reminder about not letting perfect be the enemy of our good or best. But you had a lot of words I wasn't sure how to pronounce

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Kaber,

Oh, yes, I see what you mean.

The ark I am talking about is the cabinet in the synagogue where we keep the Torah scrolls. It is called the Aron ha-kodesh, the holy ark. We have four Torah scrolls in there right now. Two the congregation has had for over 100 years. The third is a Holocaust Torah--we have it but it belongs to a synagogue from a town in Czechoslovakia, Svihov, and a Jewish community that was murdered by the Nazis. The fourth scroll we had written for our congregation's
100th anniversary.
Each scroll is wrapped in a mantel, and we change them to white for the High Holy Days.

Sorry about the words--I transliterated them to the closest English letters. They are pronounced pretty much like they look. The tz in tzimtzum, for example, is pronounced like the tz in tzar. The meanings are given in the same sentence.

Melora said...

That was lovely. And inspiring!