“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
— Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Leonard Cohen nails it! We can let go of striving for an illusion of perfection and embrace our brokenness. It is not a distraction from the path; it is the spiritual path of our everyday lives. But how do we do this? How do we let the light into the very places that are so hard to look at and embrace — the place of our fears, rage, loss, guilt, shame, our too-small-ness or overly big-ness? Usually, and understandably so, we want to run and hide when these cracks appear.
Cohen’s lyrics remind us that there is another choice. We can approach those cracks, personal and societal challenges, with a willingness and curiosity to learn from them. Jumping in all at once can be overwhelming and can get us stuck. Slowly, with the support of those we trust and love, we can look around and name what we see and feel. Why does this situation fill me with anxiety or guilt or deep sadness? What is its shape and form? Change requires this soulful work. The good thing is that we have plenty of opportunities to practice.
In the preceding line of this song, Cohen sings, “Forget your perfect offering.” When we embrace our brokenness and do the work to let the light in, this is our offering. Not perfect, but beautiful. — Susan Goldberg
Rabbi Susan Goldberg asks us to “embrace our brokenness.” While I agree that we need to “let the light into the very places that are so hard to look at and embrace,” we should be more cautious in doing so. Rather than rushing toward those dark places, we must proceed slowly and be aware not only of the stages of grief but of the complexities of those dark places.
For example, individuals who suffer from severe depression, who find themselves caught in the cracks and trapped within their personal crevasses, often cannot see the light beyond. As the author Andrew Solomon writes, “When asked, people describe the abyss pretty consistently. In the first place, it’s dark. You are falling away from the sunlight toward a place where the shadows are black. Inside it, you cannot see, and the dangers are everywhere….” (The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, 27)
Goldberg alerts us: “Jumping in all at once can be overwhelming and can get us stuck.” To repair our broken selves and our broken world, we must cautiously acknowledge the cracks. As we come to accept our brokenness, we will begin to perceive the glow within that illuminates “the spiritual path of our everyday lives.” — Carnie Burns
But how do we do this work of letting the light move through us? When I was hungry, thirsty, sore-throated, headachy, and nervous as I approached the late afternoon of my first experience of leading Yom Kippur services, I recalled this song. I thought about a preceding line, “Ring the bell that still can ring” and it became my mantra. I knew I would find the focus, energy, and will to stand up, open my mouth, and breathe. Whatever imperfect voice I had left would work.
Whatever the day, whatever the occasion, in public or private — we can begin with what works. We can look for any additional bells that we can still ring: the bell of honest reaction (anger, joy, sorrow); the bell of the voice or the body; the bell of the heart’s true desire; the bell of (dare I say it?) freedom.
The compassionate embrace of our brokenness, which Rabbi Susan Goldberg eloquently advocates, can lead to an equally honest search for bells that remain wholly ringable, despite their cracks. — Minna Bromberg
The basic value statement among some religions calls for the elimination of suffering; other religions promise an alleviation of despair in heaven. Judaism, however, as Goldberg affirms, seeks spiritual advancement through existential crisis.
Genesis 32:28 states: “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel [He Struggles with God], because you have struggled with God and with men — and you have won.”
It is no wonder that Friedrich Nietzsche, who made the famous remark, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” was such a huge fan of the Jews.
Indeed, I would argue, as Nietzsche has, that the potency of a people may be linked to its capacity to absorb and then to retrospectively buttress itself against a terrible succession of misfortunes.
And even Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, noted that the greatest threat to the cohesiveness and uniqueness of ‘ha’am,’ the people, is, ironically, equality and social acceptance. In such a context, Herzl predicted that it would take only four generations before Jews were reduced to individuals without the nuances of “a people.”
So the strange question is: In North America, without antisemitism or other external threats, what is the light, besides our shared brokenness, that will keep us together? — Matt Baremail print