V’taheir Libeinu

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 13 August 2015

ןְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בְּאֶמֶת

V’taheir libeinu, l’ovd’cha b’emet.

“Purify our hearts, that we may serve You in truth.”

When, in the morning, we say, ‘Elohai, n’shamah sh’natata bi, t’horah hi’, we remember a foundational affirmation in Judaism, that our soul, our essence, is purity (t’horah). At our core, we are good and pure. This gives us reason to hope. However far we may have damaged our lives or the lives of others, as long as we are alive, we have the potential to reconnect with our essential goodness, and begin the work of repair, renewal and return to a healthier way of being in the world. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts King David for his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Acknowledging his guilt, and asking for forgiveness, David says, “Create me a clean heart [lev tahor], O God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps 51:12) While our soul is always pure, our lev – our heart and mind – is not. Every day, we must do the work of cleaning and repair.

Reb Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) developed a profound, and immensely practical teaching about what he called the ‘good points’, in ‘Azamrah’ in Likutei Moharan I:282. The source texts are Ps 146:2 – “I will praise my God, with the little I have left [b’odi]” (recited every morning, on weekdays and Shabbat), and Ps 37:10 “And in but a little bit [v’od], there will be no sinner; you will look at where he was – and he will be gone.” Nachman taught that, when we are in our darkest moments, we can look for a single ‘little bit’ of goodness within ourselves– because there is always some that remains – and rebuild from there. That is the beginning of our rehabilitation and t’shuvah. And, of course, once we find that little bit, then the worst part of ourselves begins to recede, losing its power over us until ‘it is no more’. Nachman added to this a beautiful teaching. Sometimes we see others, or they see themselves, in a bad light. Nachman taught to search always for the good points in others, so that we can see, and connect to, the best in them; we effectively ask God to consider them on the side of merit; and they receive the nourishing and uplifting gifts of recognition, respect, and acceptance from another human being.

The ‘V’taheir libeinu’ verse occurs in the fourth blessing of the Amidah, as a weekly prayer on Shabbat, and annually at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Through those services, it is a gentle, insistent call to our hearts. We must cleanse and heal the wounds we make. And even though the work is never finished, helping where we can, and with God’s help, we can make things better.

I have created a circle dance for this chant, that provides opportunities for people to encounter each other for brief moments. The process of purification and healing is done not only within ourselves, but between ourselves and God, and in relationship with other human beings. The instructions for the circle dance are included with the sheet music for V’taheir Libeinu.

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