By Rabbi Brent Gutmann
Last week in Temple Beth Zion’s sanctuary I noticed a piece of Ben Shahn’s glass mosaic ten commandments had fallen on the floor of the bima. I picked it up and placed it in the plastic tub where we store the ones that fall. This has happened before. From time to time the glue holding in one of the pieces will fail. We’ll glue the fallen shards up again someday.
The mystics Isaac Luria taught that our world is filled with broken shards and that we should seek to make them better. Each shard that is redeemed emanates with blessing, and so all the broken pieces that make up the mosaics of our lives have the possibility of being transformed into something beautiful. This image relates to the theological concept cited from the Aleinu prayer, l’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai, to repair the world according to God’s rule, and abbreviated to the phrase Tikkun Olam, simply meeting to repair the world.
Next Shabbat we enter the Hebrew month of Elul, meaning we are just a month away from entering the High Holy Day season. Elul is a month when we are taught that God comes to walk with us in our difficulties and to help us and encourage us towards our purpose. During those days we intensively focus on those things that are broken as we affirm the things we wish to change.
We look particularly within ourselves to take an accounting of our own behaviors and perspectives to fix the brokenness within. When done properly, this is no mere rote exercise our abstract analogy. Seeing our own brokenness is difficult and uncomfortable. Yet, imagine that we never undertook this task, when then from within ourselves would come the opportunity to repair the brokenness?
There is much to fix within ourselves and there is much to fix within our world, but I am grateful for all those broken pieces that have become our blessings. We are incredibly blessed to be part of a faith and a tradition that values supporting each other in our diversity and our welfare as a whole. We are incredibly blessed to live in a country where Jews have prospered as free citizens and have been given a voice in societal affairs. We are blessed by our stories that give meaning and our memories we cherish. We are blessed by our families, friends, and our own gifts and talents. May we devote all these blessings to the betterment of our world.
The tub of shards at Temple Beth Zion is still relatively small and the vast majority of pieces still cast their light from setting in the stone. I have only been here just over one year, and I am sure that more broken pieces will appear before my feet, but ours is not a tradition that sees brokenness. Rather, ours is the one that sees instead the shard with its infinite possibility of being redeemed.
Brent Gutmann is Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion of Buffalo, New York.