Reframing Resilience: Our Scars and Our Struggle Make Us Stronger


By Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz

She’s the GOAT. The greatest of all time. 
All eyes were on her and records were ready to be broken. 
The hype. The expectation. The pain from past trauma. 
The year delay from COVID.
Tokyo 2020 in 2021. 
Simone Biles had the twisties. 
As we all know, she withdrew from all but one of her events.
Gymnasts know the twisties are when one can not identify where their body is in the air. You are literally off-balance. 
To compete in such a state of mind with the difficulty level of her routines 
would not only be risky, but also life-threatening. 
On Rosh Hashanah---we celebrate a new year of life. 
We acknowledge life is full of challenges. 
And we explore our own struggles with balance---physical and spiritual; 
personal and professional; 
familial and communal. 

As we read in our daily morning liturgy, 
we thank God for our body and our soul. 
Asher Yatzar ---Who has formed me:
Blessed are you, Holy One, who has formed the human body with wisdom-
an intricate network of channels, vessels and openings. 
This wondrous structure, and the flow of life within us, 
allows us to serve You and give thanks. 
Let us cherish this gift of flesh and blood,
honor it as God’s creation. 
We praise You, Holy One, for wondrous acts of creation and healing. 
Baruch Atah Adonai Rofei Chol Basar uMafli la’asot.

An interpretation of this blessing in our Machzor says
“You have taught us:
Guard yourselves well; take good care of your lives.
Your word calls to us:
Do no harm to yourself! 
Do not weaken or exhaust yourself!
In gratitude for the gift of our bodies,
We pray for a year of renewed health and replenished strength.

May caring for our bodies become our daily practice.
May we be attentive to our need for proper food, sleep, and exercise.

Let no injury come to others through our acts or failure to act;
But let our mitzvah be this:
To build a just society in which care is a birthright
and the blessing of health the responsibility of all.”1

This past year has taught us--if we don’t feel well, we should stay home
We have also seen more clearly the inequity of treatment
Where all should have access to medical care, 
time off from work or school for vaccines
Where all eligible should GET vaccines
And we continue to see how the health of people we do not know impacts us all.

Some of us have faced personal physical challenges this year--
From COVID-19 to cancer diagnosis to surgery to broken bones.
Our bodies are fragile---when we care for them they may do better. 
There are times when we have no control 
and must face the daily challenges we experience. 

In addition to thanking God each day for our bodies, we thank God for our souls.

Elohai neshama shenata bi, tehora hi
“Pure, my God, is the soul You gave me.
You formed it. You shaped it. You breathed it into me. 
You keep it safe within me.
Someday, when this soul returns to You,
I will find a place in eternity.
But as long as spirit breathes within me,
I place before You my thanks,
Eternal my God and God of my ancestors,
Creator of all creation, Sovereign of all souls.
Baruch Atah Adonai asher b’yado nefesh kol chai v’ruach kol b’sar ish
We give You praise, Adonai: 
all life is in Your hand; and in Your care, the soul of every human being.”2

The Talmud teaches that 
we recite Elohai Neshama upon waking each morning 
to thank God for restoring our souls or consciousness, 
for sleep was likened to death.3

These two prayers coupled, address body and soul.
We human beings must tend to and care for both. 

While some individuals are facing long-haul physical effects of COVID, 
we know there are many suffering from spiritual and mental long-haul effects. 
Mental health challenges are rampant and 
mental health therapists are difficult to land an appointment with 
while they are also struggling to help others and 
maintain their own sense of balance. 

As we enter this new year, 5782, 
we think about the names for this holiday.
Rosh Hashanah- head of the year is also known as
Yom T’ruah--the day of blasting. 
How will we respond to the shofar’s wake-up call 
as we evaluate where we are in our journeys?
Yom HaDin--judgment day
How are we judging ourselves? 
Are we forcing ourselves to do more than 
we are physically or spiritually prepared to do at this time?
Yom HaZikaron-Day of Remembrance
We pray that God remembers us in this new year.

Our liturgy also tells us today is Hayom harat Olam-the birthday of the world
To celebrate the gift of new life, the gift of a new day, 
we strive for a balance of our physical and spiritual needs.

When we thank God each day for our bodies and souls, 
we also recognize the gifts of our challenges.
Brene Brown, researcher and author of many books 
including one called “The Gifts of Imperfection,” 
emphasizes vulnerability.
It’s okay when we let our guard down. 
It’s okay when we show we are not 100% okay.

Brown explains:
“Wholehearted Living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.
 It means cultivating the Courage, Compassion, and Connection 
to wake up in the morning and think, 
no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

When we are struggling, 
it is common to compare ourselves to others. 
TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook fill our eyes and minds and 
while sometimes social media may inspire us or make us laugh, 
may also lead to insecurity.

Jewish tradition teaches us:
Rabbi Zusya said: “In the coming world they will not ask me:
 “Why were you not Moses?” 
They will ask me. “Why were you not Zusya?”

How do we celebrate being who we are even in our struggles? 

In Spirituality of Imperfection, authors Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham suggest  
“Spirituality is discovered in that space between paradoxes’ extremes, 
for there we confront our helplessness and our powerlessness, 
our woundedness. 
In seeking to understand our limitations, 
we seek not only an easing of our pain 
but an understanding of what it means to hurt 
and what it means to be healed.” 4

Spirituality is cultivating an awareness of the Divine. 
We are all created in God’s image--
each one of us a reflection of God with all of our gifts and imperfections.

There are various times in our lives where we feel broken and off balance. 
How do we honor the stories of our past as we walk into the future?
Our ancestors faced great fear when Moses went to Mt. Sinai the first time and demanded Aaron create a god---an idol. 
When Moses returned and saw the golden calf 
he smashed the first set of tablets.
What happened to those tablets---
They were not left in a pile in the desert. 
They were carried with our ancestors inside the portable sanctuary. 
A reminder of the challenges they faced and 
recognition of the ability to continue to live.

The Talmud explains our ancestors carried broken tablets in the ark 
because they are still sacred. 5

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of honoring and 
putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold-
the lines where the pieces are joined are highlighted-
essentially embracing the flaws and imperfections.

As Leonard Cohen sang, 
“There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”

Kintsugi pottery highlights the scars, the brokenness and 
makes the piece more valuable, more desirable, more unique. 
Our scars, experiences, and paths 
[can] lead us in our own crooked way to something beautiful.6

Engaging in teshuva, return, turning to God, 
turning to the best versions of ourselves,
Can be seen as kinstugi.

We thank God each day for the gifts of our bodies and souls. 
We approach this new year with all of our imperfections, 
engaging in teshuva---turning to God and the best versions of ourselves. 

The Cracked Pot 

A long, long time ago in India 
there lived a water bearer. 
He had two pots, and he had a very long pole, 
which he balanced across his very broad shoulders. 
He hung one pot from each end of his long pole. 
Each day the man left his home with his empty pots 
and his pole draped across his broad shoulders 
and walked down the path to the stream. 
Once at the stream, the man filled both his pots with water. 
Then he put the pots back on his pole, 
balanced his pole across his shoulders, 
and walked back home. 
Now what You should know is this: 
One of the man's pots had a crack in it! 
And just as you'd expect, 
every time the man arrived at home, 
the cracked pot was only half full of water.

But that didn't change the man's routine: 
Every day he walked down the path to the stream, 
collected his water, 
and arrived home with one pot full of water 
and the other pot half full. 
This went on every day, week after week, month after month, year after year. 
As you might imagine, the cracked pot felt sad and ashamed. 
One day as the man was walking home, 
the cracked pot mustered up the courage to speak to the man. 
"Excuse me, sir. I'm so sorry," said the pot. 
"And I really want to apologize and beg your forgiveness." 
"Why?" asked the man. "What do you have to apologize for?"

"Over the years that I've helped you, 
I've never been able to deliver a full load of water for you. 
I've never been able to do my fair share. 
You work so hard, but because of my crack 
you never get the full amount of water. 
So your efforts are never completely rewarded, 
and it's all because of me and my crack." 
Hearing this, the man felt sorry for the pot. 
"Listen," he said. "It's okay. Really, it is. 
In fact, the next time we go to collect water, as we walk along, 
I want you to look out over your side of the path." 
The pot agreed. The next day, as was his routine, 
the water bearer walked down to the stream with his pole and his empty pots. 
Once at the stream, the man filled both pots with water 
and placed one at each end of his pole, 
which he balanced across his broad shoulders. 
'Then the man started for home. 
Instead of worrying about the crack and the water that was falling out, 
the pot did as the man had instructed. 
The pot looked out along the side of the path. 
And what he saw was amazing: fields of beautiful flowers!

The man stopped. "Do you see all those flowers?" he asked the pot. 
Before the pot had time to respond, the man spoke again: 
"And have you noticed that these gorgeous flowers are only on your side of the path? It's because I knew that water leaked from your crack, 
so I planted seeds along the way. 
That way, every day when we walked back up to the house, 
you watered the seeds. 
It's thanks to you that we have these beautiful flowers growing along the path. 
Without your crack, we wouldn't have these colorful flowers 
to brighten my day and bring beauty to the world. 
So I need to thank you. 
Thank you for being a cracked pot."7

May we celebrate our gifts of imperfection as we continue to strive for wholeness, wholeheartedness and acts of teshuva.
And may we take time to notice the flowers along the way.

Rosh Hashannah Morning Sermon 5782

Congregation Emeth, Morgan Hill, CA

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz

[1] Mishkan HaNefesh Rosh Hashanah p. 121

[2] Mishkan HaNefesh Rosh Hashanah p. 122

[3] Babylonian Talmud Brachot 60b

[4] Spirituality of Imperfection by Kurtz and Ketcham, p. 2

[5] Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 14 b

[6] Thank you to Lisa Niver for help with this phrase and overall editing. Lisa Niver took Hebrew class at University of Pennsylvania with Rabbi Dantowitz

[7] The Cracked Pot,

Ahavat Olam for Congregation Emeth by Benjamin Dantowitz, Daniel Dantowitz, Ezra Dantowitz, and Samuel Dantowitz
Hiking in Northern California

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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