Brokenness is the Ultimate Key

Elul Day 9

I went to a lovely and unusual wedding this afternoon. The wedding was held inside a funky old orchid nursery perched on a mountain top. The room was filled with wild and wiry air plants, potted orchids, small cafe-style tables with wicker chairs. The beloveds are in their mid-60s, and the bride had been married before, more than once actually. Thankfully she wore a lovely spring green dress, with small green and purple orchids in her hair; her groom wore a tie whose colors complemented the bride's outfit perfectly. Outside there was a low blanket of clouds and fog, which only added to the mystical feel of the day.

More important than the fashion was the fact that these two people were truly choosing marriage, not to satisfy anyone else's expectations, or because of an unplanned pregnancy, but because they love each other, choose each other freely, and want to spend the last few decades of life together. 

The wedding officiant explained the various elements of the ceremony step by step, and when the time came for the groom to step on the glass, I heard a new explanation of this longstanding Jewish custom. He said that one of his favorite commentaries about stepping on the glass focused on its symbolic representation of the transformation that takes place when people get married. Like marriage, stepping on the glass results in an irrevocable transformation; once broken, the glass can never return to its original form. 

The glass is wrapped in a napkin or towel, and when the wedding party hears the emphatic stomp of the foot and the shattering of the glass, everyone applauds, shouting and singing "Mazel Tov" with delight. 

I have written about the theme of brokenness several times, and I think about it often. Extrapolating from the midrash (commentary) about the breaking of the glass, I think about things like broken hearts, broken promises, broken bones, broken dreams, experiences and conditions that call upon us to pay attention to our vulnerability as well as our capacity for healing. Almost anyone who has broken even a baby toe will tell you what they learned and how it affected them. 

There is a wonderful Chasidic story about the key and the lock. The mystics used to possess a special set of keys that could unlock the heart in prayer, but since that is no longer the case, all we can do is smash the lock. Ultimately, the sages tell us, the true key for experiencing the deepest level of prayer is a broken heart. A broken heart is the key. 

When you're dreaming with a broken heart 
The waking up is the hardest part 

You roll outta bed and down on your knees 

And for the moment you can hardly breathe 

–Song lyrics by John Mayer, "Dreaming with a Broken Heart"