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The Joy of Brokenness

September 9, 2015

By Aryeh Ben David

Published in Ayeka’s newsletter 

September 9, 2015


They just couldn’t help themselves. They had to cheer, clap, and shout out mazal tov.

The sweet young rabbi had just urged them not to. He reminded everyone that breaking the glass at a wedding is a solemn moment; a time for us to remember the destruction of the Temple and how our lives are immeasurably diminished by the loss.

As the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) emphatically stamped on the glass, everyone began celebrating. No solemnity. No tears.

I have to admit that it made me smile.

What was really going on here? The people like and respect the rabbi. But the rabbi and the people, at that moment, were living in two different universes.

The rabbi was speaking from his learning. From the books. The people knew that his words were true and important. But his reality just didn’t speak to them.

The rabbi was talking about calamity of brokenness. Brokenness brought him sadness. The rabbi was looking at the past.

The people were clapping at the joy of brokenness. Brokenness brought them potential. The people were looking at the future.

Yes, we are living in a broken world, with immense loss and sadness.

But this brokenness gives us the power to build, heal, and bless.

If everything was okay – then what would we do? If everything were in place – then what would be the purpose of our lives? Would we be needed if there were nothing to build, create, or sanctify?

Judaism, at its core, is rebellious. Judaism looks at the world and says, “This could be different. Let’s do something about it.”  Religion is usually about obedience. But Abraham responded to God with: “What if?” He did not peacefully accept the present reality. We have been a “Start-Up Nation” for 3,500 years.

The rabbi at the wedding asked the people to reflect on the brokenness of our reality.

But there is an inner power to the Jewish People. We are good friends with adversity. We have slept with unfairness, cruelty, and disappointment for way too long. We are done with kvetching about how life is unfair. We are done with passively accepting the brokenness of this world. We have tasted enough life to assert that brokenness will not defeat us. Personally, the Krystallnacht broken-glass of my mother’s Vienna led to me building a home in Israel. We have learned that, indeed, things have to break in order to build. We have brokenness – but we also have the will, wisdom, and power to build.

It is Elul, and we have begun hearing the voice of the shofar. Tekiah – Shvarim/Truah – Tekiah. Again and again, on the first day of the New Year, we will hear the mournful broken voices of Shvarim and Truah. The broken voice of the shofar – Shvarim/Truah – is always preceded and succeeded by the unity of the Tekiah. Listen carefully to the shofar’s brokenness. It is a prayer, an invitation, for us to unify, heal, and build. Brokenness is never the final word.

It would be nice if we could build without breaking. It would be nice if my life, our lives, didn’t break apart. It would be nice if growth were a smooth, straight line. But it’s not. 

So let’s cheer, clap, and shout out mazal tov. Let’s acknowledge our brokenness, but celebrate wholeheartedly the role we play in healing.

There is a soulful spark of hope in every broken moment. It is the foundation of our building.