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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 nonprofit 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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Helen Dudden United Kingdom October 20, 2017

The concept of a true love, a G*d given love. Reply

Jacquelyn England October 19, 2017

Wow! How beautiful! The Hebrew language is so rich and rightly so. The letter shape, the numerical order, it's placing - how powerful is this. "His banner over me is love." "I'm my beloved and He is mine!" Amen and Amen.
I shall never look at the ordinary heart shaped symbol the same way again - I shall always remember this one. Reply

bea baldridge Thornton, CO September 11, 2017

I commented last year on this. What a very awesome article. Then I got a notice today that someone else had commented and read it again. Wow. So awesome.

My first name is Lola. Two lameds. And I love to learn and love to teach more than anything in life. Thank you, R. Ginsburgh. Reply

Helen Dudden September 8, 2017

It is a beautiful article. In another's eyes we can almost touch a soul. It's more than we understand or have knowledge of.
If we ended in a situation because we are stubborn and not sure what to do, what a waste. Turn and look into the eyes, don't lose that chance. Reply

Anonymous New York September 7, 2017

Beautiful! *Lamed <3 Lamed!!* Reply

Elton Co August 24, 2017

Amen Reply

Jo Alex SG Brazil August 23, 2017

Todah rabah for this beautiful article! Reply

Sara Esther Crispe Danby, VT October 26, 2016

Buying Jewish Heart Necklace Hi, thank you for your beautiful comments. For those of you who have requested information about ordering the necklaces, please either go to the webstore at inner.org or if you are in the USA (and for gold plated vs. the gold) please email info@interinclusion.org for more information and to order.

Hope you enjoy yours as much as I love mine! Reply

J Jacob Singapore October 20, 2016

Buying Jwesih heart jewellery I am totally blessed with the message of secret of Elul. I would like to purchase the jewellery. May i know where and how to get Jwesih heart jewellery?
Kindly assist.
Thanks!!!
GOD BLESS!!! Reply

Shirley A October 1, 2016

Re: the picture of the "Jewish heart" Where can I find this particular type of jewelry? Reply

Helen Dudden Bristol September 16, 2016

We should accept Judaism as the beginning and end of our existence. Accepting the ways of our belief and this includes the concept of marriage.

I believe Hashem knows us better than we know ourselves. Reply

Anonymous Puyallup September 16, 2016

Thank you so much for teaching us. What a blessing ! I would like to buy a Jewish Heart necklace like that one! Can you tell me how to ? Reply

jonathan Los Angeles September 6, 2016

so beautiful thank you for gifting this insight to us. your usage of words, knowledge and teaching perfectly weave a wonderful tapestry and imagery for my mind and heart. thanks, sara! Reply

Jo Alex SG Rio de Janeiro March 3, 2016

This is beautiful, I must share it on my educational blogs and on my Facebook as well. Todah rabah. Greetings from Brazil! Reply

cj Little Hawk Randolph USA September 10, 2014

Thank you! Precious love...inside & out :) Thank you for sharing your joy! Believing this article will touch lives across every line of division, for its heartbeat is ONE with our Creator. Reply

Helen Dudden Saltford Bristol August 27, 2014

I loved this article so beautiful. Reply

Shlomo Zalman Chaim Beauchamp Rio Rancho, New Mexico via chabadnm.org August 21, 2013

The Jewish Heart בס"ד
That Was Beautiful! Reply

bea baldridge pueblo west CO August 11, 2013

Re:necklace Where can I buy a necklace like that? Thank you. Reply

Heather New Hampshire 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. Reply

Diana Spain April 20, 2013

Thank G-d for using you as His instrument!!! Very helpful article for my beginning as a spiritual Jew. Reply

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