There are many times in our lives where we are dealing with a feeling of brokenness. We feel we aren’t able to be our fullest selves for reasons that may feel out of our control.
If you are having a particularly difficult time in your life for a day, a month, a year or more this ritual is for you. Life’s journey presents us with times where we may feel stuck. We can learn from Judaism that we cannot fully experience joy unless we know what the experience of feeling broken is like.
Feel free to download and share the ritual. If you use it in public spaces, please offer it as a teaching in tacklingtorah’s name.
Everyday ritual: for wondering/brokenness
There is a Jewish metaphor commonly used of wandering through the desert.
For the times in our lives where we either feel we are lost, or haven’t fully reached a sense of personal freedom. We can feel stuck or broken for one reason or another. This can leave feelings of hopelessness and despair as we wander in search of the personal freedom we so desire.
For the Jewish people there was power in the seeking and wandering of the journey through the wilderness as well as the moment when the Jewish people had burst through the red sea and came out the other side with the joy that one can only experience through such freedom.
As people who experience a range of transitions throughout our lives we can learn to honor the moments that we feel stuck in the “wandering” as well as the moments of joyous freedom.
For the moments you feel stuck in the wandering (think about):
The Passover seder begins with the following passage from Deuteronomy 26: 5-9
(as instructed by Mishnah Pesachim 10:4):
(5) You shall then recite as follows before the LORD your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. (6) The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. (7) We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. (8) The LORD freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. (9) He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
(ה) וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גָר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב׃ (ו) וַיָּרֵ֧עוּ אֹתָ֛נוּ הַמִּצְרִ֖ים וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ וַיִּתְּנ֥וּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עֲבֹדָ֥ה קָשָֽׁה׃ (ז) וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע יְהוָה֙ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עָנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ׃ (ח) וַיּוֹצִאֵ֤נוּ יְהוָה֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים׃ (ט) וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּתֶּן־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃
Rashbam, medieval commentator, on Deuteronomy 26:5 : The meaning of the word אובד here is similar to תועה, the same hebrew root Avraham used to describe wandering without specific objective, almost like walking because one is lost.
This teaches us that being lost and wandering are similar. We navigate through the muck by finding what are the things/people/ideas that would help us to feel more fully ourselves. Our journey is all a part of the process. Sometimes it has a clear objective, other times it is unclear what our path will be and why we must feel lost and unsure in order to reach our destination.
(and a contemporary poem about wandering on the journey, from a Haggadah supplement)
Pack Nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.
Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing, be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind - fear, silence, submission.
Do not take time to explain to the neighbors.Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly, before you have time to sink back into the old slavery.
Set out in the dark. I will send fire to warm and encourage you. I will be with you in the fire and I will be with you in the cloud.
You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely home to that place you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around your fires in the dark will make you strong and wise.
Outsiders will attack you, some will follow you, and at times you will weary and turn on each other from fear and fatigue and blind forgetfulness.
You have been preparing for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness to make a way and to learn my ways more deeply.
Those who fight you will teach you. Those who fear you will strengthen you. Those who follow you may forget you. Only be faithful. This alone matters.
Some of you will die in the desert, for the way is longer than anyone imagined. Some of you will give birth.
Some will join other tribes along the way, and some will simply stop and create new families in a welcoming oasis.
Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings that even your closest friends will have to learn your features as though for the first time.
Some of you will not change at all.
Sing songs as you go, and hold close together. You may, at times, grow confused and lose your way.
Continue to call each other by the names I’ve given you to help remember who you are. You will get where you are going by remembering who you are.
Tell your children lest they forget and fall into danger -remind them even they were not born in freedom but under a bondage they no longer remember, which is still with them, if unseen.
So long ago you fell into slavery, slipped into it unaware, out of hunger and need.
Do not let your children sleep through the journey’s hardship.
Keep them awake and walking on their own feet so that you both remain strong and on course.
So you will be only the first of many waves of deliverance on these desert seas.
Do not go back. I am with you now and I am waiting for you. (poem by www.jewbelong.com)
Jews have been wandering for centuries. The journey is fraught with mystery, struggle and perseverance. Yet survival is a common theme that Jews hold on to time and time again. Whatever the journey you are wandering through, know that you are not alone in the struggle. That G-d makes Jews wander in search of that which is worthy of praise and freedom. Sometimes, we have to learn what freedom means to us by struggling through the wilderness.
During periods of struggle/transition you can think about the themes of wilderness, struggle and journey. You can incorporate a mantra of your own to start each day.
Don’t be afraid to say, “Hineni, (here I am) in this particularly difficult moment.” at the beginning of each day, as you wander through the wilderness.
For the moments you feel filled with joy and freedom (say):
מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ יְהוָ֔ה מִ֥י כָּמֹ֖כָה נֶאְדָּ֣ר בַּקֹּ֑דֶשׁ נוֹרָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת עֹ֥שֵׂה פֶֽלֶא׃
Mi chamocha ba-elim Adonai. Mi chamocha nedar b’kodesh norah t’hillot oseh felah.
Who is like You, G-d, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders!
Ramban, a medieval rabbinic sage, takes these words, נוֹרָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת (norah t’hillot) to mean “Awesome in praises”, for him this means, that G-d performs miracles that are praiseworthy.
So that your awe at miracles can feel rooted in gratitude towards the G-d you believe in, and the unity of our world. As you reach this particular moment of freedom, know that your joy comes from reaching the other side only after struggling through deep pain and narrowness. Know that you are making decisions for yourself towards your own awe-filled freedom, which allows joy to flow towards and through you.
Full ritual: here