Linda Hirschhorn
MusicLifecycle EventsChoral TrainingMusicAboutWritingsphotosContact



© 2021 Linda Hirschhorn

Shana tova

This last year and a half has been pretty tough. A lot of heart-break, a lot of loss. We've lost things that nourish and bind our lives together. The daily and weekly rituals of person to person connection- family gatherings, hugs from friends or grandchildren, no coming together to sing and pray and eat with each other. Many of us have had friends and family pass away.

Our heartbreak has not been limited to our personal lives.
As a society we've been witness to some of the consequences of climate change: deathly wildfires and floods, mass shootings, right now – we've been watching refugees from Afghanistan and all over the world who have no safe haven to flee to, we've been witnessing anti-Asian violence, an alarming rise in anti-semitic violence. Our sacred democratic institutions have been challenged and are seriously undermined to name but a few.

This time perhaps has drawn you closer to people in your lives and made you more appreciative of those relationships.

For others, the turbulence, the intense polarization of political views in our country of this past year, may have magnified the differences in your circles and caused heart- breaking fractures of long- standing relationships. Maybe you are not sure they can ever be mended.

What can we learn from all this brokenness and from our own broken hearts? In the 18th century the Kotzker Rabbi was famous for saying “there is nothing so whole as a broken heart. Eyn davar shalem yoter, milev shavur.

What does he mean by that? Think about that image; a broken heart is about a heart that is cracked open, a heart that could create space for different things to come through. An open heart can point you in new directions, to do different things in your life that you hadn't considered before.

As many of you know my family suffered a terrible loss when my nephew Aaron, my brother Larry's son, was tragically killed this past spring. Ever since, my brother has been writing poems and songs pretty much on a daily basis. The poems come unbidden, tapping a deep and previously unmined creative core. For it is often the case, that in hard times we rise to our challenges by getting in touch with parts of ourselves, parts of our souls, that we have paid little attention to or perhaps never knew existed. We find strengths we didn't know we had.

But it doesn't have to be about poems or songs.

The broken open heart could offer something as simple as an opening for you to ask for support, to have someone to listen to you, maybe that wasn't something that was easy for you to do in the past. Or it could be an opening for you to listen to someone else pour out their hearts.

Our experience of heartbreak can challenge us to become more compassionate and kind, to others and to ourselves. To give us the courage to sit with what hurts.

And yet at the same time whenever tragedy strikes, we are reminded that we have limited control over our lives. We don't like to dwell on that fact. Most of us like a certain amount of predictability and security.

For some of you this time of heightened, shaky uncertainty may have deepened your faith, maybe you found comfort in the daily rhythms of religious observance and prayer. The psalmist in Psalm 34 suggests pain and loss can offer us a spiritual opening. Psalm 34 “karov adonai l’mishbarei lev” (God is close to the broken-hearted)

For others, this sense that we have limited control over our lives may engender the opposite feeling: that life is random, often needlessly cruel and there is no benevolent power watching over us, so, no point in prayer.

Or .. contradictory creatures that we humans are, you may feel both simultaneously. You may pray more 'just in case' even as you assert that you do not believe in the efficacy of your prayers. But of course prayer is as much about you as it is about God. Pray with enough heart, and you might be changed by the process. And along the way you can be nourished by the praying community that you are a part of.

Perhaps what our broken open hearts reminds us is that the control we do have is in how we care for each other. .as my brother asks in one of his poems: Why exist?" and he answers "To be for others." What matters in this life is being a thread woven into the fabric of shared human experience.

So I would offer a different understanding of Psalm 34 and suggest we hear it this way” Godliness is close to the broken-hearted. When we care for each other we embody those god-like attributes that are woven into our hh liturgy- ahavah, chesed, rachamin, erech apayim, noseh avon v'fesha-- loving kindness, compassion, patience and forgiveness..

We saw some of that loving kindness and compassion in the front line health care workers who risked their own lives to care for others. This godliness is what we feel when we are on the receiving end of the kindness of other people – the ones that take you to cancer treatments or drop off containers of nourishing soups, as so many you of you did for me this past spring.

This godliness is felt in a life that thinks about the needs of others, that is aware of our shared humanity, of our interdependence, and our responsibility to care for and uplift each other when we can.

There is a chassidic tale that relates to this idea: A water carrier had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots was perfect while the other pot was cracked and leaked, arriving only half full at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. For a full two years this went on daily. The perfect pot was naturally proud of itself and its superior water-carrying capability. But the leaking pot felt miserable and dejected, and one day by the stream it spoke to the water bearer: “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the water bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “Look at me! I am defective!” the pot said. “I have ONE JOB. But with this crack in my side, I’m only able to deliver half my load at best.”

The water bearer smiled and said, I want you to show you something.” He pointed to the well-worn path they took each day, and for the first time the pot stopped looking inward and instead looked outside itself. Only then, did the pot notice a ribbon of color edging its side of the path. “I’ve always known you leaked,” the water carrier said. “And so I planted seeds under you, and thanks to you, these flowers have been nourished to full bloom.”

There are two teachings in this story: first of all to recognize what is sacred about every one of us, with all our broken parts, and secondly for all of us to see the potential in our own and each other's broken places; to know how and where to bring out the best in each other, to know how and where to plant the right seeds to elicit the full potential of each person. Had the water carrier seen the pot’s only purpose as carrying water up a hill—the pot would always feel deficient, the water carrier would have felt frustrated and unappreciative of the pot's potential gifts- neither would understand that perhaps they had a whole other reasons for being; That their brokenness could actually bring a different kind of beauty into this world. We all have cracks and we are all water-carriers enabling each other to bring beauty into the world.

As Jews we know about brokenness. Our tradition is full of the imagery of brokenness. In the creation myth from the Kabbalistic tradition from the 16th cent Rabbi Isaac Luria describes how God poured intense sparks of divine energy into the creation of the world. However the vessels that contained this energy were so intense that they shattered. The shards of these broken vessels formed the world that we know. We are all formed from this brokenness. Our goal, according to this creation myth, is to “raise up” these holy sparks, to reunite them with their Godly source and find Godliness through our brokenness.

It is what we have come to call Tikun Olam, repairing the world by our gathering of those shards.

Another story of brokenness comes from the moment when Moses sees the golden calf as he comes down from Mt. Sinai. Moses in his anger breaks the first set of tablets on which god had written the ten commandments so he has to engrave a second set himself.

According to midrash, the broken pieces were gathered up and both the broken pieces of the first tablets and the 2nd set written by Moses were kept in the ark side by side that traveled with the people through the desert. So we have this powerful image: the co-existence of the broken tablets alongside the whole ones: weaving brokenness and wholeness, keeping our brokenness and wholeness with us at all times.

The rabbis were basically saying: Do not bury your broken pieces, do not cover them up, or discard them, they are what make us human.

Rabbi Brant Rosen teaches that Judaism itself was forged from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, what he calls a mythic moment of brokenness, that continues to resonate in our collective psyche.

“From that destruction we spiritualized the concepts of Temple and of homeland and we became a globally based, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation. We've learned that there is nothing so broken in our lives or our world that cannot be made whole once again wherever we gather to create community.”

Perhaps the most well known image of brokenness in our time is that of the- breaking of a glass at a wedding. The original meaning of the broken glass symbolized the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For us, we have this beautiful image of the shattered shards of glass that brings two people together to make them a whole family.

On Rosh Hashana we hear the shofar call of “Shevarim,” which literally means BROKEN. It is meant to be a wake up call that reminds us to dig a little deeper, to acknowledge the broken parts of our selves.

On Yom Kippur we have the most vivid and potent symbol of the broken heart: the vidui and the al chet, the two major confessional prayers where we acknowledge our mistakes by this motion: call it knocking or tapping or beating on our hearts with our fist multiple times in the evening and throughout the day.

Rav Avraham Kook, the first chief ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, talks about a spiritual knocking and wrote that “Every time that the heart knocks, we listen, because this is like the voice of an angel which is knocking on the doors of our souls, asking us to open up to it. Sparks of the Divine – those original shards – lie within us, waiting to be discovered; the key is listening to our own inner voice.”

So we are not strangers to loss and brokenness. The shattered vessels, the breaching of the city walls, the breaking of the sacred tablets, the cry of the shofar, the broken glass at weddings these are the images that are at core of our tradition.

Loss is a part of the everyday fabric of the universe. We understand that what has been built can be torn down, what is secure can be suddenly taken away, that what is sacred can be desecrated and destroyed. To love, to be human, we must be willing to lose. To have a whole heart, we must risk it being broken.

This year, in this season of spiritual reflections, as we stand amidst fragments of shattered hope, of broken lives, we have to ask not only What happened? What went wrong? But also we are summoned to ask What should we do now? What will we build together? What seeds will we plant?

Site design by Andreas Wittenstein, BitJazz Inc