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The Jewish Heart

The Jewish Heart

The Secret of Elul

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Love. It is the most powerful of human emotions. We all crave it. We cannot live without it. And yet it is so overwhelming, so all-encompassing, that there is no way to measure it, prove it, define it, or even describe it.

When we speak of the intellect, it is represented by the mind. And when we speak of the emotions, specifically of love, they are represented by the heart. But why?

When our back is turned, we have no idea of the state of the otherThe symbol of the heart is probably one of the most well-known symbols. Spanning continents, cultures, religions, languages, that little red heart means love. It is used to sign letters, to represent the word “love” itself, and has inundated the buyers’ market by being plastered on cards, T-shirts, necklaces, balloons and just about everything else.

How is the image of the heart, as we most commonly know it, the symbol for this passionate experience of love?

The month that we are now in, Elul, is the key to unlocking the inner and most potent meaning of the heart. As is well known, the Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”

This beautiful and romantic phrase is that which represents our relationship with our Creator, which is often paralleled to that of a husband and wife, a bride and groom, in our individual lives.

The Zohar explains that at the beginning of Elul we are achor el achor, meaning “back to back,” and by the end of Elul we are panim el panim, “face to face.” But how can it be that we are back to back? Wouldn’t that imply that G‑d has His back turned to us as well? How can we say such a thing, when this is the month in which—as chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi teaches us—“the King is in the field”? Is it not the month when G‑d is more accessible than ever, when He is waiting for us to greet Him, when He is there for us in the “field” of our everyday lives?

The fact that we are described as “back to back” and then “face to face” is an incredible lesson. Often, when we feel angry, hurt, abandoned, whatever the root of our pain may be, we turn our back. When our back is turned, we have no idea of the state of the other. And it is often easier to believe that we are not the only one with a turned back. It is easier to think the other also turned around, that the other isn’t facing us at all, because if that is the case, then even if we turn around it won’t help, so why bother. Why make that first move only to turn around and see the back of the other?

But this rationalization is the cause of many unsettled arguments, hurt feelings, and broken relationships. How classic is the scene, played out endlessly in movies, of the couple who walk away from one another. At some point the man turns around, wanting to call her name, ask for another chance, beg for forgiveness. He is about to speak, but realizes that her back is turned. She is walking away. He tells himself that it is too late, she just doesn’t care. So he turns back around. Seconds later, she turns to look at him. She doesn’t want this to end. She wants to say something, but can’t garner the courage, doesn’t have the strength. And why, why should she, when his back is turned? The month of Elul teaches us the necessity of being willing to turn aroundShe looks at him longingly, but it just doesn’t matter—she assumes he couldn’t care less as he continues to walk away from her. And we, the viewers, sit on the edge of our seats, hoping that maybe they will both turn around at the same second, that they will finally realize that the other does care, that even though they appear to be back to back, they really want to be face to face. Sometimes that fairytale ending does happen; other times they simply continue to walk in opposite directions, right out of each other’s lives.

It is the month of Elul that teaches us the necessity of being willing to turn around. The King is in the field, our Creator is there, and no matter how we may feel, He has never had His back turned. All we need to do is turn ourselves around to realize that He is there and waiting for us. The “back to back” that we experience in the beginning of the month is based on our misperceptions, our fears, our assumptions. Only when we turn around do we realize the truth, the inner essence, and then we are “face to face,” which does not only mean that we can finally look at each other, but more so, that we can look in each other—for the root of the word for face, panim, is the same as pnimiyut, which means “innerness.”


So now the question is how this lesson is taught to us, not only in the month of Elul, but through the name “Elul” itself. A Hebrew name is not a mere way of referring to something, but actually represents its soul. Chassidut teaches that every parent is gifted with divine inspiration when he or she names a child. It is the name that represents the deepest aspects of this person. Kabbalah and Chassidut teach us that to uncover the essential meaning of a Hebrew word, we need to analyze the letters that comprise it, their numerical value, their form and their meaning.

As we said above, the word “Elul” is comprised of an aleph, followed by a lamed, followed by a vav, followed by the final letter, another lamed. The first letter in “Elul” is also the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The letter aleph is numerically equivalent to one, which represents the idea of G‑d’s total unity.

So now we must answer how all of this is related to the heart. Here is where our lameds are once again defined. At this point it is important to think again about the symbol of the heart and to question its origin. And so it should come as no surprise that the meaning of this symbol will once again be found in the word for “heart” itself.

In Hebrew, the word for heart is lev, which is spelled lamed-beit. Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, in the year 1291, wrote a manuscript by the name of Imrei Shefer, in which he defines the meaning of the heart.

Rabbi Abulafia teaches that the word lev, lamed–beit, needs to be understood as two lameds. This is because the letter beit is the second letter in the alphabet, and is numerically equivalent to two. So he explains that the word needs to be read and understood as “two lameds.”

But it is not enough to have two lameds. As Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains, in order for their to be a relationship, the two lameds need to be connected. They need to be face to face. When we turn around the second lamed to face the first, we form the image of the Jewish Heart (as seen in the picture at the beginning of this article). While the heart, as we are used to seeing it, is quite clear in this form, an entirely new part of the heart is also revealed.

The heart and the love it represents can thrive, can flourish, only when there is a totality in connection.This is because the letter lamed is the tallest of all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The reason is because the lamed represents the concept of breaking out of boundaries, of going beyond your potential, of entering the superconscious from the conscious.

The lamed also means two things simultaneously. It means both “to learn” and “to teach,” which shows us that the two are intertwined and both are essential. In a relationship, I must be willing to learn from the other, thereby making myself a receiver. Yet the other person also must be able to learn from me, which then makes me the teacher, the giver.

Furthermore, the image of the lamed can be broken down into three other letters. The top part of the letter is that of a yud, the smallest of the Hebrew letters, and the letter that represents the head. The head contains the mind, the intellect, and also the face.

The next letter in “Elul” is a vav. In Hebrew, the vav serves as a conjuctive “and.” As a word, vav means “hook,” and in its form it looks like a hook. So in this case the vav is the hook which is connecting the yud, the mind, with the bottom letter, the chaf, which represents the body. Physically speaking, it symbolizes the neck, which transports the flow of blood from the brain to the heart.

This teaches us that the heart, that the love that it represents, can thrive, can flourish, only when there is a totality in connection. The Jewish heart, true love, represents a mind-to-mind, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, body-to-body, soul-to-soul connection. The vav, the connection between the head and the heart, must always stay healthy, with a clear flow. If anything cuts it off, the relationship cannot continue. As we all know, one of the quickest ways to kill a person is a slit right across the neck. The neck is our lifeline. It ensures that our head, our intellect, rules above our emotions, and that there is a healthy interchange between the mind and the heart.

The heart that we are all familiar with, the symbol that represents love throughout the world, lacks the yud and the vav; it is missing the mind and the neck. The popular symbol represents only the physical connection between bodies.

So this is why and how Elul is the month that begins back to back and ends face to face. At the beginning of the month we are unaware of the reality that “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” However, by working on ourselves during this month, by being willing to turn around and make changes, we come to realize that our Creator has never had His back turned. He has always been facing us, and just waiting for us to turn around. And once we do, we are then like two lameds that are face to face, which form the Jewish heart and which are the essence of the month of Elul.

Elul then must be understood as an aleph, representing G‑d, followed by a lamed, vav, lamed—a lamed that is connected (vav) to the other lamed.

And the Jewish heart, this idea of love as a totality of connection, is not merely the work for the month of Elul, but is the entire purpose of our creation. This Jewish heart is a symbol for why we were created and what we are meant to accomplish. For the Torah is the blueprint of creation, and the guidebook of how we connect to the divine. And it is not a book that has a beginning, middle and end, but rather a scroll, since we are taught that the “end is wedged in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.”

So what do we find when the Torah scroll’s end rolls into the beginning? How does the Torah end and begin? The last word of the Torah is Yisrael, Israel, which ends with the letter lamed; and the first word is bereishit, meaning “in the beginning,” which begins with a beit. When we join the first and last letters of the Torah, we have lev, the Hebrew word for heart.

May we be blessed with the ability to tap into the powers of the month of Elul, to recognize and reveal our ability to both learn and teach, and through that, to come face to face with ourselves, with our loved ones and with our Creator, as we are taught through the Jewish heart.

The Jewish Heart design and jewelry is patented and copyrighted by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (11)
August 21, 2013
The Jewish Heart
בס"ד
That Was Beautiful!
Shlomo Zalman Chaim Beauchamp
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
chabadnm.org
August 11, 2013
Re:necklace
Where can I buy a necklace like that? Thank you.
bea baldridge
pueblo west CO
August 5, 2013
Thank you for sharing this article. I will be attending my first High Holidays as an official Jew by choice. This helps me to appreciate this time of the year all the more.
Heather
New Hampshire
April 20, 2013
Thank G-d for using you as His instrument!!!
Very helpful article for my beginning as a spiritual Jew.
Diana
Spain
August 29, 2011
The Jewish Heart
Thank you for your article, helping me through a tough month. And to never forget that G-d is with me, and does not have his back to me.
Louise Nicholson
Napier, New Zealand
August 28, 2011
The Jewish Heart
Thank You for this beautiful and heartwarming article. You are a powerhouse of knowledge, and with your talent, you connect to thousands of Jewish Hearts bringing them closer to our Creator. May G-d grant you every strength and happiness as you continue on your mission of inspiring thousands of Jews all across the globe. The world is a better place becasue of you. Sara Esther Crispe rocks!
Esther Waldman
NY
August 17, 2010
incredible!
I feel like I just opened a treasure trove after reading this article - Thank you!
rivka
balt, md
September 15, 2008
The Beautiful Pendant in the Photo
This is such a beautiful and informative article. I have the pendant shown in the photo of this article. It was a gift to me from someone who is Jewish and is very dear to me. I knew little about Hebrew and the meaning of lamed. The pendant represented pure love to me in a romantic sense. Now I will wear it not only for that love, but also the love between oneself and G-d, and the knowledge and learning that goes hand-in-hand with those. Thank you for the wonderful article.
Carol
Baltimore, MD, USA
September 18, 2006
The Jewish Heart - article of Sara Esther Crispe
Congrats on the wonderful article. It is really heart-touching. We should pay more attention to our (mates) hearts as the Proverb says: Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life - meaning every motive of deed toward G-d or people, is in micro state in heart.Another thing: G-d is the "king" of the Jewish hearts, He inhabits in us, so it is meaningful what we keep in it: good or bad. Our ancestors the Israelites had choice between good or bad/life or death, and the result of their choices depended on the qualities of their hearts. The important thing was not only what they promised to Moses, but what was in their hearts, the future success of their life was connection with the heart they had. G-d sees all hidden thoughts of men. We cannot hide ourselves from Him, therefore we should harmonize our hearts with our sayings.In the ancient times the heart was considered mainly as the centre of conscious feelings, while the kidneys the drives of the human nature.
Naomi Marik
Budapest, Hungary
September 16, 2006
The Jewish heart
It seems as if all my life I've been mocked because I believe in love. So many women believe that they are more superior to me because they believe in money, materialism and other pop culture in finding a mate. They ridiculed me because they believe they will never be used or hurt because they are in control. Love is not about control, it's about finding the way to understanding our humanity through the nutual sharing of God.

Thank you for letting me know that I'm not alone.
Karen Gaskins
Bowie, Md.
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