Today is a day for remembering the ways in which we are broken and the ways in which we are made whole. Today is a day to begin the process of taking stock of ourselves.
Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul. Traditionally, the month of Elul is the beginning of the period of t'shuvah (repentance) that reaches its climax on Yom Kippur, thirty-eight days from today. (But whose counting?).
In traditional Jewish reckoning, yesterday was the anniversary of the day that Moses returned from the summit of Mount Sinai, where he had pleaded with God for forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and for shattering the first tablets of the Ten Commandments. God forgave us and today is the anniversary of the day that Moses went back up Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets.
The month of Elul is the period for examining the pieces of our lives, looking at what we have done, considering how we could do better, and making ourselves ready for Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, the Shofar is sounded in the synagogue, beginning today and throughout the month of Elul, to wake us up to face the task.
There is a promise, though, that goes with this period. If we are willing to make the trip up the slopes of the mountain, we will receive a fresh start. If we are willing to face our lives with honesty and courage, we are promised that we will be made whole. We will be as good as new.
Our tradition teaches that both the whole tablets and the broken tablets were kept in the Ark of the Covenant that the Israelites carried through the wilderness. The broken tablets were not kept to remind us of our shame, though. Rather, the broken tablets are a reminder of the possibility of repair.
In whatever ways we feel ourselves to be broken, we should know that repair is always possible. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught, "If you believe that it is possible to destroy, you must also believe that it is possible to repair." Keeping the memory of our brokenness strengthens us to pursue life with courage and conviction. We know that the things within us that are broken can always be made whole.
Rosh chodesh tov. May you have a good new month.
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Repairing Everything in an Instant
Shabbat HaChodesh: The Death of Little Things