Friday, September 23, 2011

Elul 24: Purifying Broken Vessels

Massekhet Kelim, the tractate of the Mishnah devoted to matters of the ritual purity of vessels of various materials, tells us that the only way to purify an earthenware vessel is to break it.  That is, if you have a clay pot that has become somehow contaminated in a way that violates kashrut / dietary laws, it may not be made kosher again unless it is broken and re-manufactured.

Humans are the original earthenware vessels; Bereshit / Genesis tells us that God fashions the first person out of the Earth.  His name, or really his title, is Adam, derived from the Hebrew word for soil, adamah.  Just like the clay pot, we too are only made pure again by metaphorically breaking - hence the multiple comparisons of humanity to earthenware ("Like clay in the hands of the Potter," "Scripture compares us to a broken shard") found in High Holiday liturgy.

The entire enterprise of teshuvah, of collective confession, of fasting and suffering on Yom Kippur, of asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged, particularly in difficult situations, is about purifying our broken souls.  We are resilient creatures, not easily stirred from the comfort of complacency; the Jewish calendar forces us to confront ourselves, to shatter our internal scaffolding and rebuild to code.  Only the one who acknowledges his/her brokenness may properly seek teshuvah.

The recitation of Selihot prayers, those in which we ask for forgiveness in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, begins Saturday night.


This post is one in a series of thoughts for Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah; I am trying to post one every day of the month, except for Shabbat.  Here are links to the previous posts:

Elul 23: Fear and Awe

Elul 21: Transformation as Spiritual Necessity

Elul 20: Just a Spoonful of Humility

Elul 17: Transforming Curses into Blessings

Elul 16: Things to Remember in Elul

Elul 15: New Year of the Soul

Elul 14: Translating the Self

Elul 12: What's Ten Years?

Elul 10: Teshuvah Three-Step

Elul 9: Vidui and the "Jewish Science"

Elul 8: The Two Types of Forgiveness

Elul 7: The Sounds of Elul

Elul 6: If you had only one request from God

Elul 5: High Stakes Accounting

Elul 3: Teshuvah Inventory Questions

Elul 2: The Spaces In-Between

Elul 1: Resonances of the Shofar

Rosh Hodesh Elul: What's more important than electricity?

Follow these and many other daily posts on Twitter with the hashtag #BlogElul.

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