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alphabet soup for the soul - week 8


ח/Het echoes with dissonance,

strains of regret and anger prompting soul-growth,

a ladder linking loss and lasting life.


ח/Het embodies that guttural ACH-growl of exertion

that hovers

between exasperation and exaltation.

Knowing the pain of regret and a flame of righteous anger,

she is the ‘mother of all [new] life,’ חוה.

WORD-NUMBER PLAY: An early for of this letter was shaped like a ladder. As in Jacob’s dream, she frames the vicissitudes of life as bridges between worlds – earth and heaven, the conscious and the subconscious, the present and the possible, particle and wave, the struggle and the reward, the going into exile and the coming home. In its calligraphed form (as written in the Torah), she’s a gateway combining the two previous letters, the ו/vav posted on the right, and the ז/zayin on the left, symbols of connection and division, respectively, linked by tiny thread that hovers in between. That thread is called a hatoteret, a thin line, that ‘very narrow bridge’ that enables movement of חיות/hayut, the life-force, the movement between poles that powers, that forces, life onward.

Withח /Het, the 8th letter and י, the 10th letter, we write the Hebrew word ‘life,’ חי, numerically adding up to 18. Eight and ten. Eight is the symbol of perpetuity, the Arabic number, 8, on its side represents infinity. With ten utterances God spoke the world into being, ten generations between Adam and Noah, between Noah and Abraham, and ten tests faced by Abraham. Through the lens of this letter, life progresses through a series of tests, opportunities presenting as challenges. We squander the seeds of change when we turn away from the ladder of life.

Two potent life-forces symbolized by this letter, are regret and anger. Each time we confront these emotions, we face a choice, a test. Regret, חרטה/ harata and נחם / naham (“to be sorry”) can spiral downward into a shame which avoids action. Whether through outright denial or internalized sense of unworthiness, both lead to spiritual stagnation. ח /Het reminds us that there is a middle gateway between denial and shame that beckons us onto the next rung of the ladder where regret steps up into recognition, resolution, restitution, and a life renewed.

Anger and frustration are aroused in the space between what is and what we believe ought to be. The extreme reactionary expressions are rage and indifference. Rage is as likely to smash the ladder as it is to scale it. Indifference protects us (and others) from our anger, but turns its back on truth and responsibility, and squanders opportunity for transformation. The anger that burns somewhere between feigned indifference and rage, harnesses the fire within that propels our ascent. In the Bible, God’s anger is metaphorically described as חרה אף / flaming nostrils. The potential destructive effects of which are mitigated by one of the 13 divine attributes, ערך אפים / erech apaim, lengthened nostrils, long-suffering, in other words, patience.

PRACTICE: In Hebrew, when we ‘miss the mark’ it’s called a heit. Some say it’s a ‘sin,’ but whether intentional or inadvertent, when we become aware that our action (or inaction) cause more harm than good, the feelings of regret we feel send us to our room for improvement. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, we spell them out, ‘al cheit she’chatanu lefanecha…/על חטא שחטאנו לפניך...’, a heit for each letter of the alphabet. Allowing ourselves to feel regret and naming the ways we have missed the mark is good soup for the soul. As is resolving to right the wrongs we wrought when we can.

Sometimes, it is not so obvious, or even impossible to fully rectify our mistakes, regrettable words that slip out are, like feathers caught in the wind, not so easy to retrieve. Thankfully, there are other means of atonement, such as tzedakah. Making monetary donations in increments of 18, ($18, $36, $72, $180, etc.) is a tradition that gives numerical expression to the prayerful desire to perpetuate life with each contribution, each act of tzedakah.

PRAYER: יחיד חי העולמיים...משבח עדי עד שמו הגדול

Yahid Hei HaOlamim…meshubah adei ad shemo hagadol,

[unified is the Life of all the worlds, a great purpose worthy of perpetual praise.]

Let us praise the All of life, the trials and triumphs

For the sake of love in service of sacred purpose.

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