Yom Yevava: Whole, Broken, Whole Again.
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 | Temple Shir Tikva
Rabbi Jen Gubitz
The golden sands swirled. The air was thick with sadness. She hoped they would return soon. But three days had since passed. And no word. Yet. She forced herself to stand and drawing the crimson cord of a tent flap, she opened it. She looked out. But all that was there were the golden sands swirling and an ever thickening sadness.
And our matriarch, Sarah, cried. In agony, she wailed. She beat her chest. Where was Abraham? And where was Isaac? God gave me Isaac as my joy, my laughter, she recalled between her tears. And for a moment a smile creeped into the corners of her mouth - recalling the laughter in her belly that there would finally be a baby in her belly… But then Sarah remembered her grief, her smile retreated and she cried out, and she sobbed.
Yom Yevava - it was a day of sobbing.
Can you hear her cries? The anguish of a parent fearing for a child’s wellbeing?
The gravel and stones of the city swirled as her footsteps to the House of God in Shiloh were weighted with sadness. Each year Hannah would return to God and yearn for a child. But many years had since passed. And no word. No sign. No change. And no child. Yet. She forced herself to eat and to drink, though there was bitterness in her soul.
And she wept. In her tears, she prayed. Her lips moved; No sound came out. Hannah’s sadness thickened as her heart wailed. Standing before the Holy One, Hannah’s heart sobbed.
Yom Yevava - it was a day of sobbing.
Can you hear her cries? The anguish of an adult wishing to become a parent!
A mother cries for her child as Sarah wails, the midrash teaches us in connection to our Rosh Hashanah Torah reading. Sarah wails upon learning that Abraham has bound Isaac
upon an alter…
Can you hear her cries?
The anguish of a parent fearing for a child’s wellbeing?
And another cries for a child as Hannah prays, the Rosh Hashanah Haftarah teaches, through her tears yearning for a child…
Can you hear her cries?
The anguish of an adult, wishing to become a parent!
Sarah and Hannah sob and cry, and wail and weep, and whimper and sigh: for fear of loss,
and to fill a loss in their interminable waiting. Will Isaac come back, Sarah bewails? Will I ever have a child, Hannah begs?
For each, it is Yom Yevava - a day of sobbing.
In your own life, have you ever known such a day?
If you have or have not known such a day, according to the Talmud, today is such a day.
In Aramaic, the language of the Talmud, today is also known as Yom Yevava - that day of sobbing, “a day of drawing a long sigh, and uttering short piercing cries.”
But wait, what? Rosh Hashanah - a day of sobbing?
How? This is a day of apples and honey and family dinners! This is a day of pomegranates and promise and potential! HaYom Harat Olam - this is the day the world was created! Yom Yevava? A day of sobbing? Impossible!
On a day like today, what could possibly bring us to tears?
The Talmudic tractate named and about Rosh Hashanah zeroes in on this particular word - Yevava - in a discussion about the qualities of the sounds of the shofar’s blasts.
The conversation is rooted in the Torah text that speaks of this day:
יוֹם תְּרוּעָה, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם
Yom Teruah Yihieh Lachem
“It is a day of Teruah to you.”
Today is Yom Teruah - one of the more common names by which Rosh Hashanah is known.
Yom Teruah - a day of blowing the horn or shofar. And we know this word from the shofar calls
[Chanted] Teruah! It is the call made up of 9 successive staccato blasts… [Chanted] Teruah! [with 9 vocalized blasts]
But what does the voice of the shofar, the quality of Teruah, really sound like, the rabbis of the Talmud wonder? And of what should it remind us?
Possible answers hinge on the different types of Hebrew of our sacred texts, the nuances of which grow and change throughout history.
In fact, a very small debate ensues in the Gemara, the rabbinic analysis of the core mishnaic text, as the rabbis try to understand how each set of calls is distinct from the others and what they could mean to us.
[Yes,] Rabbi Abbahu summarizes there is a difference of opinion. [When] it is written, “It shall be a day of Teruah unto you,” we translate it in Aramaic, a day of Yevava. One authority thought this [word] means drawing a long sigh, and the other [thought] that it means uttering short piercing cries.” For clarity, the rabbis point us to another moment where the word Yevava occurs - so we might understand what the Teruah call of the Shofar must really sound like.
They direct us from this arcane word in Aramaic -Yevava - to its counterpart in biblical poetry in the Song of Devorah in the Book of Judges. They share with us the story of an unnamed woman who is the mother of Sisera who has just been killed. As she waits longingly for his return and realizes that he will not, Sisera’s mother cries and moans and wails
בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן נִשְׁקְפָה וַתְּיַבֵּב אֵם סִיסְרָא
“Through the window she looked forth,
and cried out,”
The mother of Sisera, wailed, says some translations: “Why does his chariot delay? Why do the sounds of his chariot tarry?”
Yom Yevava - a day of sobbing, wailing, and uncontrollable weeping.
Can you hear her cries? The anguish one feels crying out for a loved one?
Thus, the rabbis urge us to consider: the sound of the shofar “is a complex sound” like the sound of a person crying - “beginning with sobbing then developing into uncontrollable weeping. This sound is the combination we hear every Rosh Hashanah as shevarim-teruah.”
[Chant] Shevarim, Teruah - the sound of a person sobbing, wailing, weeping, whimpering, and sighing…
Though aspects of the scriptural readings highlighted from Rosh Hashanah focus on women, of course, it is not only women who cry throughout our sacred texts. There are the tears of Jacob and Esau, once angry rivals, who both cry when coming face to face years later; and the tears of Joseph that cry out from Egypt who after years of intentional abandonment by his brothers sheds tears of joy upon their reunification; and King David cries out in sadness at the loss of his best friend Jonathan. Throughout our texts, the nuances of language offer us different verbs to express their tears, but little is lost in translation and the sound of tears is universal.
And not only people cry in our sacred texts. The angels cry at the destruction of the Holy Temple and God cries with them. But most especially, a midrash teaches, [that] “when [people] are afflicted, God cries, such that “if the world ever heard God’s weeping, and realized the extent of God’s grief, it would explode. Even a spark of God’s suffering would be more than the world can bear.”
And somehow, thank God (even as or perhaps because God cries) we have arrived once more to Rosh Hashanah. A New Year - where even though the suffering in God’s world, where even though the tears and the sobs and the wailing from brokenness of the world is more than each of us could ever truly bear alone - somehow we have made it together. We have another opportunity, we have another year, another shana, to change, l’shoneh, what breaks, and to heal and fix, l’taken, what cries out to us.
On a day like today, the birthing of a world anew, what could possibly bring us to tears?
Perhaps the news, these days, most days, brings you to tears…
Perhaps your life these days, brings you to tears…
Or perhaps you have so much joy these days, that you also feel wetness welling in the corner of your eyes…
Perhaps you are so grateful for what you have that you, too, are overcome with tears of joy...
Perhaps some days you cry in grief and some days you cry in joy.
And some days you experience both…
at the same time.
Don’t we all enter this sanctuary over these days holding a little bit of both? Just as at our birth when we enter into the world in the same way. Even for those who needed a little slap on the back, we came in with a wail, a sob, a scream - a red-faced desire to turn back - all the while held in the arms of possibility and potential. Every day of creation comes with some sense of loss. At every birthday, every wedding, every new year, something new is created, something that once was is no more. And like little ones we cry and we scream and - Yevava - we sob in cathartic release until eventually soothed by the joy and possibility of what is to come…
Tears and Joy. They come together. The mystical Zohar teaches, in fact, that "weeping is lodged in one side of my heart, and joy is lodged in the other."
The shofar’s cries echo each of our days and in the chambers of each of our hearts. And somehow the simplest of sounds from a seemingly unsophisticated instrument have such great power to rouse us!
When we hear the shofar’s blast, may we to take to heart in the chambers that weep and in the chambers that hold joy this teaching from the Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin:
We start with a full, uninterrupted blast - TEKIAH!
‘We are whole!’ the shofar sings!
A 3-part blast - SHEVARIM - whose name means ‘broken.
The shofar says to us:
‘I was whole, but now I am broken.’
The third set of blasts - TERUAH -
a staccato series of short blasts -
even more broken than the previous set.
Its message is Yevava -
our weeping and sobbing
‘I was broken, now I'm smashed to pieces.’
But every final blast in each series of the shofar’s song ends with TEKIAH - the uninterrupted blast. Even though there is brokenness and destruction, the promise of wholeness endures.
We are required to sound at least 100 blasts during Rosh Hashanah.
100 times the shofar brings us this message:
"You were whole once; then you were broken;
you may even have been smashed and ground to pieces.
But soon we shall be whole once more.”
And for those of us who are not yet there - for whom the broken wails of Shevarim and Teruah resonate most profoundly: may those around us who hasten to Kol Shofar, the voice of the shofar, hear our cries and hear our sobs, cradling us, no matter how long it takes, as we journey
from the Yevava sobs of brokenness to Tekiah Gedola - the enduring, uninterrupted, rousing and stirring sounds of shleimut and shalom, wholeness and peace.
Citations - even though blogger.com doesn't permit footnotes!
Based on Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 32
Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 33a-b
The Gemara and Jastrow disagree with Rashi and JPS on the translation of this word.
Rabbah Sara Hurwitz, A D’var Torah for Rosh Hashanah, Jewish Orthodox Feminist AllianceTree of Souls: the Mythology of Judaism, Howard Ginsburg. Sourced from B. Berakhot 3a; B. Hagigah 5b; Eikhah Zuta 7; Yalkut Shim’oni, Eicha 1009; Esh Kadosh, from a derashah delivered by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira on February 14, 1942.
Zohar II, 255a; III, 75a