Watching CNN and PBS through the year, the talking heads tell us that all our systems are broken: the financial system, the medical delivery system, the tax system, the water system, and on and on, so when Stollis calls ‘shevarim’ at the Shofar’s blast, I feel right at home. Shiverim – the ta, ta, ta, ta of broken notes signifies that humankind is broken and needing to be restored, sewn up or woven or nailed back together. We are to be God’s associates in this work.
What if we aren’t exactly broken, but unfinished, incomplete. What if God, on that metaphoric sixth day, overestimated the creation, hoping that we would finish ourselves. Every parent does this with the children that have been created. God’s mistake was lover’s mistake, overestimating us. The relationship has been a rocky one ever since.
The idea of unfinishedness is one of the things that shows a difference between our faith and the Christian idea. The Christian says that we are sinners. Judaism says that we sin. The difference is an important one. Like good Talmud students, we’re not content to leave our sinning at that. We list exactly which sins we mean, all the Al Chets, the Ashamnus: bagadnu, gazalnu-Aleph to Tav, the Hebrew version of A to Z. When I was growing up, the list included clipping, parting thin slivers from the edges of gold and silver coins, which was why the larger denominations were milled at the edges. The good news is that we don’t do this anymore, the bad news is that we’re off the gold standard and our coinage is neither silver nor gold. It’s not on the list, now. There are dead sins. The younger sins will soon replace them on the list.
You might have noticed that lying isn’t on the list. False witness yes, lying under oath in court, but we hold some lies to be allowable and some even obligatory. There are people damaged by the knowledge that their illness is fatal. Most don’t want reports of their spouses in compromising situations. Do I look fat in this dress? I have had three enemies in my life. Did they know it? I hope not. Did I wish them dead? No, but it’s an improvement.
One of the biggest things Yom Kippur has been carefully designed to do is to let us look at our derelictions in painful detail and then to put them away, blown into the last Tikiiya, the one we hear as we watch Rabbi Jamie’s face turn purple. Some people can let those old sins fly, others, like me, can’t quite let them go. I’m good at part 1 – the clear look, relinquishing, not so much. The many years of these late night re-investigations have shown me that most of my shortcomings are things that are less true sins than self-assaults on my vanity, words said or things done that wounded my self-image. They may have hurt others briefly but they tear at me for years. Being evil may have some drama, some romantic cachet to it; being stupid or tactless has nothing to recommend it.
Shivarim – broken notes, incomplete sounds. I yearn for the great t’kiah not only that it will exit me to dinner but that it demonstrates to my creator yearning for the completeness which has so far been denied me. I wish I was. The baggage changes as we age, but it’s baggage all the same. It’s heavy and it smells bad. Let’s put it down.