The word for heart, "Lev" (and the Biblical form "Levav"), is straightforward, but the translation of "Shalem" is a lot more ambiguous. The phrase can actually be found in the Machzor itself, during the silent Amidah, where we read: “Put Your awe upon all whom You have made … let Your works revere You … and form one fellowship to worship you with a levav shalem.” But we still have to
ask ourselves, what is a "Lev Shalem," and how do we get one? In the most recent issue of the magazine CJ:Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel wrote an article examining the different potential meanings of "Lev Shalem." In it, Rabbi Gertel goes through possibilities like "a perfect heart," "a peaceful heart," "a complete heart," and "a full heart," and in the end rejects them all. He writes, "A lev shalem is a heart of integrity. It is a sincere, undivided heart." For Rabbi Gertel, the focus is on willingness to participate in community, to come to the High Holiday service with a desire to change, an openness to new perspectives, and an eagerness to serve and give back.
While I like his ultimate conclusion, and certainly agree that sincerity is crucial to this season of repentance and change, I find Rabbi Gertel's position to be too prescriptive. Why do we need to settle on a "correct" translation of this phrase? What I love about the title of our new prayerbook is precisely its ambiguity! I am drawn in by its mystique, its multifaceted potential. I may have a sense of what "Lev Shalem" means to me, but why can't it mean something else to you? Our hearts are the center of our emotional beings, and so the "type" of heart we bring with us to services reflects what's going on in our lives. Each person comes to services looking for something specific to him or her. When the Cantor begins to sing Kol Nidrei, we each, in a sense, hear something different, and our hearts are touched in unique ways.
Where are you this High Holiday season? In addition to a head covering, a tallit, and a new set of threads, what kind of heart will you be bringing with you on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? And by the way, "Lev Shalem" might refer to where we hope our hearts will be by the end of the High Holidays; it isn't necessarily referring to how you arrive. You may come searching for a "perfect heart," or longing for a "peaceful heart," and if that is the case, I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for.
In this week's Torah reading, Moses is quickly coming to the end of his life. He seems desperate to secure his legacy, and make sure the Israelites remain true to God and the commandments. What is Moses'
state-of-mind? Or perhaps more poignantly, what is his state-of-heart? Is he able to enter this period of his life with a "Lev Shalem"? Like Moses, we each have to come to terms with the choices we have made and the paths our lives have taken. The ability to look back at the end and say that life was lived to its fullest is not about the facts, not about the details of what happened and when. It's about perspective. It's about how we view life, and how we should strive to feel good, content, satisfied, and at peace. In short, it's about obtaining a "Lev Shalem."
1. Image courtesy of Ohev Shalom
2. CC image courtesy of garlandcannon on Flickr
3. CC image courtesy of Ohev Shalom
4. CC image courtesy of quinn.anya on Flickr
5. CC image courtesy of Naimi&virg on Flickr