Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Wholeness of a Broken Heart

by Susan Weinberg

What we first learn or discover takes on new meaning as our understanding grows. With some perspective we could now begin to pick out the themes that echoed throughout our prior discussions.

In our earliest session we explored the story of Moses coming down the mountain to discover the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. Moses throws down the tablets in anger, breaking them into shards. While the tablets may have been broken, the break we are concerned with is the breaking of trust. All parties, God, Moses, and the Israelites, go through a process of regret and repentance whether for anger or a lack of fidelity. That is followed by repair and then remembering, one of the most important themes in Judaism.

Similarly the story of the Maccabees began with the brokenness of both the temple and the soldiers, in the latter case both physical and emotional brokenness. This too is followed by repair and remembering as each year we honor that rededication in our celebration of Hanukkah.

When we looked at words we considered the fact that wholeness and brokenness exist in relation to each other, living together, not as opposites.

This was the background upon which we revisited a quote that had been introduced as we began this journey. There is nothing more whole than a broken heart. 

This is a saying attributed to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kootzk (1787-1859). Our handout (February Broken-Hearted-Whole-Hearted) shares the commentary by his contemporary Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1875) on this quote. 

So, what is meant by this seemingly paradoxical expression? 

In our discussion we made a distinction between acknowledging brokenness versus denying or suppressing it. We agreed that acknowledging is an important step on the path to healing. Brokenness is often associated with loss, but conversely loss often makes us aware of what we valued. That allows us to incorporate it into our life in different ways. Brokenness offers some unexpected benefits. As we put ourselves back together we also learn the empathy that may allow us to support others. Brokenness unleashes energy which can easily turn into obsessive energy, but can also be re-channeled in a positive direction. We talked of Rep Jamie Raskind who so valiantly managed the house impeachment team. Having just lost his son to suicide, he stepped into another maelstrom and presented his case with an authenticity and humanity that was in part generated by that energy of loss re-channeled into purpose.

To live is to have a broken heart. As we age, things break and tear and we learn how to navigate that brokenness and to own where the breaks are. Just as in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, we embrace our flaws and imperfections. We wear those scars proudly, for they speak to the discovery of empathy and compassion. Our hearts are indeed more whole.

We closed our session with a discussion of the contemporary Hebrew song by Naomi Shemer, Ain Davar (It's nothing). The song incorporates the line "there is nothing more whole than a broken heart." It is a song that seems to speak to the grief of Israeli mothers who risk the lives of their children in the military.