The Hurting Sayings We Say
At the time to renew my contract, some members of my synagogue’s board engaged in a rampant rabbi character assassination. People who had never attended services bitterly complained about my “lack of spirituality.” I turned to a loyal congregant next to me in search of support. “Rabbi,” he said, “if you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” I was stunned by his answer. I wanted to shout at him, “What about raising your voice demanding just and respectful treatment of your rabbi!” “It is so convenient to hide behind pre-fabricated sayings!”
LIFE is an E.R
Rabbi Jack Bloom, of Blessed Memory, was the dean of clergy therapy. He once told me, “Alfredo, when you arrive at your congregation, pretend you are entering an E.R.” “You may not see it on the surface, but everybody is wounded.” Then he looked directly into my eyes and added, “you also are admitted.”
If we wore special existential glasses, we would be shocked by how people are glued from a thousand imperfect pieces. Faced with this wisdom, we would feel compelled to cheer and embrace them.
Moses smashes the first tablets, angry by the Israelite’s idolatrous golden calf. The rabbis were curious about what he had done with the broken pieces. Did Moses embarrassingly hide them under the sand? The rabbis teach that Moses placed the fragments in the ark alongside the new Tablets. The whole and the broken coexisted side by side. I imagine that with both tablets inside, the ark was much heavier to carry through the dunes of Sinai. But as the Israelite’s shoulders ached with the extra weight, they earned self-confidence.
The pieces of your Self lost through deception, failures, illness, or death are the aching vessels in which you can pour wisdom.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) wisely taught, “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being but integrating the contraries.“
Alas! I don’t promote trauma as a path to growth! I wholeheartedly reject theologies that justify suffering as God’s education. I would gladly skip classes in that “divine school.” But life has taught me that none of us will escape pain living in one piece.
Then, what do we do with a missing piece of life? Our responsibility is to explore our wounds, preventing bitterness, envy, and self-destruction.
One Remedy for America’s Violence
Our country is suffering a crisis of despicable and horrific violence. Politicians must work in unison to prevent more senseless carnage. But meanwhile, as a whole, this country must grow through self-awareness, compassion, and recognition of our mutual brokenness. A society of vulnerable people who care for each other will better control its anger and violence. The ethos of the “self-made” as the paradigm of the American dream must give way to a program of communal humanization. When recognition of our mutual fragmentation is accepted, the language of absolutes will succumb to a state of humility. I believe that the first step in our country’s transformation is humility. The narcissistic American exceptionalism must end, allowing our broken pieces of humility to spread through the land.
As a form of secular prayer, I share the beautiful words of American author C. Joy Bell.
I am a broken person. And I know exactly where my cracks are and how deep they run. I don’t pretend not to be a broken person, and therein lies the big difference. Because the truth is, we are all broken in places, but it is those who know exactly where and how they are broken, who also know exactly where and how they are whole! And we may not be whole in all places and in all ways, but we take whatever wholeness that we do have, and we make good of it. And we try hard to work on the broken parts, and we ask for help when we need it.
I assure you. You will not come out in one piece. But your broken fragments will reflect the light of life in a broader spectrum. They will illuminate undiscovered places of your Self. Enjoy the exploration.