January 21, 2019

Shabbat, Brokenness and Light: My Reflections at an Interfaith Event

Over this past 4th of July weekend, I shared some Shabbat reflections at the Walking Meditation on Interdependence, which was held at the beautiful Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles.  The Interfaith Commons of Southern California, an emerging alliance
 of interreligious organizations coming together in common cause, produces this lovely annual gathering.  Bob Williams, the incoming president of the Interreligious Council of SoCal, and a Canon with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, had organized the event.

As we walked around the lake, there were six stopping points, with each representing a different tradition: Buddhism, Bahaism, Hinduism, Judiasm, Christianity and Islam.  At each stop, one person shared a prayer and reflection.

Station #4: My Shabbat Reflection


We read in the Book of Genesis that G‑d created the world in just six days, and then rested on the seventh.  Shabbat is taught to be one of the most essential Jewish practices, and provides a sacred time and space where pausing and resting enables the practice of creation to be sustained week after week, month after month, and year after year.  Shabbat is meant to last 25 hours, and begins at sunset on Friday evening and ends Saturday after nightfall.  It is supposed to end as soon as three stars are visible in the night sky.

This time of reflection and spiritual enrichment commemorates G-ds hand in creating the entire world, and pulling us out of slavery in Egypt.  We are encouraged to remember times in the past when were not free, but are especially encouraged to come into this 25-hour window of the here and now, and be in gratitude for our faith, our lives, our company and our freedom.

Deeping my Connection to Judaism                                 

It has seemed to be during my darkest times, where I have felt the most broken and raw, that I have found myself experiencing a profound connection to Judaism.  I get more deeply rooted in Torah, and incorporate the teachings into my every day life, as a narrative that beautifully helps me to navigate my emotions and perceptions.  

Judaism brought me tremendous peace through learning how every human being, no matter how broken or lost they may feel, is still created in B’tzelem Elohim, “in G-ds image,” and that every person has a unique and holy soul, and infinite and unconditional worth.  At the same time, we also are taught that our souls are made of dust in order to maintain our humility and stay grounded.

Brokeness = Wholeness                                                      

Judaism teaches how something that is broken is of equal value to something that is whole, and that some things actually need to be broken in order to move forward.  Such as when Moses broke the tablets on Sinai, and God said, “congratulations (yashar koah) that you broke them.” 

Like myself, the Jews had been living in the past and stuck in their failures, and Moses needed to break the tablets in order for the Jewish people to move forward and create a new sense of wholeness, and a new nation.

By connecting to Judaism, I was connecting with a religion that spoke such a universal message about being human, and was teaching me to accept my humanness, and to see my brokenness as something holy.  I began to see that those piercing fragments within one self also present a blessing, and a wonderful opportunity to bring those pieces back together and create something new, and reach an even higher level of consciousness.  

Breaking and repairing is one of Judaism’s most holy forces of creation.  The world was born out of brokenness, and light was born out of darkness.  And the word Shalom means so much more then simply peace; it is about feeling complete peace.  It is a feeling of wholeness, well being and harmony.  I now believe that Shalom is also a sense of wholeness that requires a person to own all their parts, which may also include the broken ones, and isn’t any less holy.

The Myth of the Shattering of the Vessels, by Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed

At the beginning of time, God filled the entire universe.  When G-d wanted to create the world, God contracted its breath to allow the space for creation, and in that space darkness was born.

And then God said, “let there be light,” and light began to fill the darkness, and ten holy vessels came forth, like a fleet of ships, and each filled with immeasurable amounts of beaming light.  But those vessels were too fragile and couldn’t handle such powerful amounts of divine light, and thus broke open and shattered into divine sparks that covered all the land. 

Repairing the World

God created humanity to sift all the holy sparks from the four corners of the earth, and perform tikkun olam, which means to repair the world.  We are taught that this repair is critical for future survival of humankind, and that tikkun olam can only be fulfilled if all of humanity collaborates on this endeavor.

Repairing Ourselves

Nobody goes through this life without experiencing some sort of hardship at some point.  While it is important to repair the world and gather the sparks, at the same time, it is just as important to heal ourselves and recognize and nurture our own spark.  

Shabbat is so much more than a day of rest. It is an opportunity to turn things around and step into our own lives in a more powerful way.  For me, I was trying to rest by stepping into a sacred time and space, where I wasn’t being consumed by the fear-based thoughts, judgments, blame, guilt, or shame, which may have impacted me throughout the week.   I am giving myself the permission to take a Shabbos pause from using uncompassionate self-communication, but also reflect on how I can take more proactive steps towards changing and re-patterning my behaviors, and take better responsibility for my relationships, thoughts, feelings and actions.

Through praying, singing, talking, walking, dreaming, and sleeping, we reinforce the part of ourselves that knows that things can be better, and must be better.  We reflect on how we can live differently in the coming week, and to see each week as an opportunity to create a reality that reflects more of what ought to be.  We are ultimately patching the cracks in the foundation to create something more stable and whole.

Not that I don’t reflect during the entire week, but there is something powerful about reflecting in an allotted time in space where you are intentionally trying to help your mind become a personal sanctuary.  May the sacred shabbos space I create within me continue to spill into the rest of the week, and the rest of the week gently pour back into the shabbos space. I am more free to learn and grow in this infinite exchange.

Walking the Talk

I could not think of a better way to celebrate Shabbat then by walking side by side with people from different (yet also similar) holy paths.  Within this sacred time and space, we are bringing together those divine sparks that had shattered at the time of creation, and we are interdependently creating wholeness and a greater sense of harmony between G-ds creation. 

Today, as we walk together, we are putting one foot in front of the next and doing tikkun olam by repairing the world. We are actively taking part of an actualized dream of a better world. 

– The ending of my shared reflection.


After Station #6

The walk concluded at the 6th station representing the Islamic tradition.  Following the words shared by the speaker, we all ate dates to signify the breaking of the Ramadan fast.  I have learned that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief.

I also got to witness one of the five daily prayers, which is central to the 5 pillars of Islam.  I am always excited and feel honored to bear witness to someone praying.  It’s a  sacred window into what can be such a vulnerable moment for someone.  The event ended with an Iftar to break the fast.

The entire experience was wonderful, and I look forward to next year.

For more…

To hear an extraordinary sermon on the emotional and spiritual brokenness of the world, please see this video that my dear friend, Esther Kustanowitz, had made for a Shavuot sermon slam.  I used some of her insights in writing my reflection.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tlv8kDaF0gg