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This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service. To learn more, visit www.ajws.org.
I recently had the honor of serving as a chaplain to a woman named Maggie in the last weeks of her life. In those long, painful days in the hospital, Maggie was constantly surrounded by her three childhood best friends. One day I asked what it was that has kept them so connected. “Well,” sighed one of her friends, “we are so close now because she broke our hearts many years ago.”
The friends had been inseparable since grade school. In their last year of high school, Maggie had become pregnant and shortly thereafter suffered a painful miscarriage. Paralyzed by shame and sadness, Maggie was unable to share her grief with her friends. Instead, she withdrew completely. The friends were deeply hurt, but they refused to let her go. They kept calling, kept wanting a relationship. Slowly Maggie began to share her pain with them and they rebuilt their shattered friendship.
“There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” said the Kotsker Rebbe. It was in healing the brokenness of their relationship that made the friends so close. And it was clinging to the heart-break within Maggie that allowed them to build a relationship so strong that it could last a lifetime. This healing of past hurts is the process of teshuvah, continually moving closer to one another and to the world by living by our values.
This Shabbat is one of the special weeks of nechemta, comfort, that follow Tisha B’Av, the primary day of communal Jewish mourning. Tisha B’Av marks some of the most profound moments of loss in Jewish history, such as the destruction of the Temples in ancient Jerusalem and the subsequent violent displacement of our people.
It would be tempting to forget the pain and grief that Tisha B’Av marks and obscure the moments of shattering within our Jewish past, just as Maggie, as a young woman, was drawn to hide her brokenness. Yet, it is in the creation of holy spaces, where we can share and name our grief, that the possibility of healing begins. These weeks of nechemta following Tisha B’Av lead directly to the High Holidays when we draw nearer to one another through teshuvah. The healing of the High Holidays is most possible when we first allow our hearts to break in grief on Tisha B’Av.
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