How’s your heart? I ask not as a cardiologist but as a seeker who always feels trepidation this season. In the Hafiz poem, “That Believe in Gravity,” Hafiz writes [translated by Daniel Ladinsky]:
The wind and I could come by and carry
you the last part of your journey, if you became light enough,
by just letting go of a few more things you
are clinging to…that still believe in
What are you holding on to you that you need to let go of so that this season of self-awareness and improvement can do its job? It’s OK if it gets a little ugly and messy inside because we believe that even when the gates of prayer are closing, the gate of tears is always open.
On Rosh Hashana we re-coronate God as the King of Kings and see ourselves as peons in the vast, wondrous landscape of the world. Humility creates vulnerability. On Yom Kippur, we face God with a mountain of personal and collective transgressions. We allow our inner demons to surface so that we can make a personal reckoning and commit to change. Repentance creates vulnerability. On Sukkot, we build small, impermanent houses and dwell there, casting aside our material comforts to live in the shadow of God’s protection. Impermanence creates vulnerability.
If you are having trouble getting to a vulnerable state this season, you need turn no further than Psalm 27, the one we are mandated to read in the morning and evening from Elul to Shmini Atzeret. King David models for us what it means to live in a state of constant vulnerability: “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (27:8-10). Nothing can make a person more vulnerable than being abandoned by one’s parents and yet, only from this place of complete loss and existential angst can King David achieve the intimacy with God he is seeking.
Our vulnerabilities bring us to faith because they wipe away the veneer of independence, self-reliance and confidence that we use to walk comfortably in a world that demands them. In a verse we read this season in the Torah cycle, we are reminded that we will only truly come to live intimately with God and others when we articulate our vulnerability: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Devarim 30:6). To circumcise the heart is to make a small hole in it, a hole big enough to let in the pain.
We reiterate this in a teaching of a Hasidic master: “After the shofar blowing was completed, the Baal Shem Tov said ‘In a king's palace there are hundreds of rooms, and on the door of each room there is a different lock that requires a special key to open it. But there is a master key which can open all the locks. That is a broken heart. When a person sincerely breaks his heart before God, his prayers can enter through all the gates and into all the rooms of God's celestial palace’" [Or Yesharim].
Native American writer and theologian Vine Deloria once wrote, “Religion is for people who are afraid of hell; spirituality is for people who have been there.” This season, don’t move away from your pain. Move through it. Use it to achieve closeness with God and others. Make a hole in your heart because that is where true blessing lies.
And if you can’t get yourself to a place of vulnerability now, don’t worry. The gate of tears never closes.
Shabbat Shalom and Shannah Tovah