Brokenness to Separation to Elevation:  A Memorial for Benyamin Eliezer ben David
For the many of us who have previously lived without ever feeling that the universe was a safe place, we knew only the fear of living within that absence of safety. By the time we came to recovery living within the fear and all of its sequellae that imprisoned us had become an acceptable norm for all that we could expect from our lives and the universe; it had become initially our brokenness. Our work in recovery is to somehow heal the brokenness within the safety and security of the universe’s moment in the present.
The theme so easily and prominently on display running through the popular self-help hype on the covers of magazines prominently displayed on the shelves and tables everywhere from the newsstands to doctor’s waiting rooms, is “pick yourself up and put yourself back together in 10 weeks or ten steps, whichever comes first.” Of course this degree of tongue in cheek hyperbole, not too far removed from what is actually printed, is matched only by the naiveté of those who sincerely believe that putting yourself back together is a noble and healthy act for the universe and an even healthier act for them.
Health is not found in “putting yourself back together” as if some emotional adhesive can be applied to our psyches and our souls and then “presto” we are suddenly made whole and healthy, then bringing this wholeness to the universe in our interactions, fully cured of whatever brokenness we are in a state of. Exactly the reverse is true-the broken-off pieces remain individual pieces, separated but each whole itself allowing this wholeness to receive the grace, the loving attention, and the peaceful transformation of the present moment into a Holy Union with G-D and its attendant safety and security.
I recently visited Ellis Island where my father and mother’s family first touched America. My father’s entire family came from Russia early in the early 1900’s, my mother’s mother from Poland who with a sister was the only survivor of Hashoah. Merely walking the same ground as my grandparents first walked left me deeply affected. But nothing could have prepared me for what I was to see and my reaction to that sight. The photographs of the hardships of the immigrants’ life in Europe and the transatlantic voyage in steerage quarters were moving and dramatic, as only grainy and very old black and white photographs can be. But it was the photographs of the unspeakable brutality of the pograms, a denial of the sanctity of life by its defilement, that alone intruded upon my sensitivities to a much earlier time of my life, a period far from the personal safety of the present moment, and left me emotionally naked, the healing of my brokenness incomplete as the process continues. I wept uncontrollably at these sights and abruptly left the area telling my companion “I just can’t bear any more of these sights, it’s just too much for me.”
Was my reaction to the sights an example of “my wallowing in the excrement of the past” or an acknowledgment of the helplessness and vulnerability of the human state, my human state, and a necessary antecedent to recovery? Was it a failure of the denial of the past, a breach in the walls isolating memories of past pain, or was it a healing moment in disguise? I found the answer while shopping for furniture.
The finish to be applied on all of the pieces of my newly purchased, but unfinished, furniture is called deeply distressed, created by intentionally physically disfiguring wood with hammers, chains, nail heads, and ice picks then applying multiple coats of stain that accentuates the grain and its interruption by the disfigurement. The irregularities and interruptions, separations into individual segments of wood, are magnificent in their imperfections as the reflected light imbues a beautiful spectrum of lines of colors and shades. I saw this finish on display at a furniture store, and without any conscious thought was attracted to its energy. There was no rational decision that “I liked it”, only an awareness of my truth that was etched into the wood as permanently as into the recesses of my soul-it was the physical representation and summation of the authenticity of my entire life.
The interruptions in the lines of grain resulting in separateness and an apparent randomness of patterns are a metaphor for our brokenness into a kaleidoscopic array of parts, some at our own hands, and others at the hands of others. No matter the cause, brokenness it is and, more importantly for the universe as well as G-D’s plan for us, ours to own in the space and time in which we live. The moment, in the present, is what it is, whatever we determine it to be, but nevertheless a present that has been gifted to us by the Universe that knows what it can be at G-D’s direction. The light reflected off the brokenness of the wood’s surface is much brighter and richer than that of a smoothly finished furniture surface.
But brokenness is not either an appropriate nor truthful description of the very apparent disconnect between our behavior and our real essence, our neshama which is a spark of Divinity G-D united with the corporeal entity of our physical body to do His work in the world of form. But G-D doesn’t seem to place much of a premium on the unseparated state of wholeness as a requisite for acts of holiness. Consider that we are commanded to separate the challah with a blessing and offer it as tribute to G-D. We are commanded to separate from our wives periodically before rejoining them in the holy act of creating a physical body which G-D will provide with a neshama to serve Him. We are commanded to separate ourselves from leavening to eat only the unleavened for Pesach. We are commanded to separate ourselves from money we have earned with our bodies to offer as tzedakah in a holy act of righteousness. We are commanded to separate the activities of the Shabbat from the other days of the week to honor and glorify the Author of the Shabbat. These are but a few of many more instances in which separation is not only a prelude to holiness but also a requisite. Brokenness may aptly apply to a piece of glass but not to a human. Within each of us is the potential for living from the holiness within.
Uncut diamonds are only potentially refractors of light, only potentially the very beautiful gemstones that collect the light and reflect it back in an amazing and dazzling array of brightness and beauty that has fascinated and owned the admiration of poets, lovers, kings, and ordinary people who covet the ownership of their beauty. The process from rawness to beauty requires creating many flat surfaced facets in the cutting process that absorb the light more effectively allowing it to enter the diamond’s interior from where it can be refractively returned to the universe many times brighter than the light originally absorbed. The light absorbed by the facets becomes dispersed within the interior of the diamond into all of the colors of the visible spectrum and then sent out of the diamond in a fiery display of colors that are brighter than the absorbed light by a factor of several hundredfold.
Not without a reason has the Rebbe, OBM, occasioned to liken each Jewish neshama to a diamond. Trained in physics he understood the absorptive and refractive characteristics of light and the principle that the greater the number of exposed surfaces the greater the absorption and refraction not only in the absolute sense but also relative to the raw uncut diamond.
We are no different from the diamond in that principle. Once we have accepted our imperfections in the world of form we are instructed to make more holy, the universe is prepared to shower us with G-D’s healing light of grace, forgiveness, clarity and peace; rather than attempting to cover up our separations we expose them to the light of His healing forgiveness and grace.
Those of us in the 12 Step Recovery community understand that recovery is not a matter of seeking to perfect the universe, others, or ourselves into losing our cracks and blemishes, restoring the separated pieces, the many facets of discontinuity for which we have taken ownership. Chassidus teaches us that we are able to raise the level of spirituality in this lower world without needing to perfect it; that is the role for Hakodesh Baruch Hu. Recovery means for us accepting the separation between our deeds and the holiness of our neshama, our imperfections, and our blemishes and allowing G-D to perfect them into miracles of healing by His working on the multiple surfaces we present to Him. The more separation into more pieces the more He has to work with, the more pieces to be exposed to His Light and like the cut diamond with all of its facets the brighter the reflective light out of our neshama.
For us Ahavas Yisroel means more than only loving our fellow Jew. It means sharing the miracle of G-D’s healing in our lives, the energy of His Healing, His peace and serenity with those who continue to struggle with their own separation. This is the Twelfth Step. It means opening our hearts and souls and allowing G-D’s light reflected off the separated pieces that we are to enter their pieces of separation and bring them His miracle. In our helplessness and vulnerability that allows us to find His grace is the strength that we bring to those suffering wherever they are. This is our service to G-D. We only need to try, to attempt, and know that the only failure is failure to attempt it.
Despite our best efforts to spread His healing light to those suffering from various causes of separation, we are forced to recognize that G-D and only He decides in these matters.  If the cover of a Chumash, Heaven forbid, becomes accidentally soiled or injured, it’s essence, the eternal truth and Holiness of G-D’s words within, remains just that, unchanged.
So it is with humans. Our essence is the Divinity of our Neshama, but we are known to others by our deeds and words, the Neshama often obscured by those deeds, our footprints in the world of form.  The neshama of Binyamin Eliezar ben David might have been difficult to discern by the footprints of his journey in the world of form; but the neshama is of the world of spirit, and so his essence was and now remains pure, unsullied and holy. The struggles of his journey in this world in no way ever diminished the purity of his essence, a spark from the Divine Throne of The Eternal One.
For those who mourn his loss to the world of form may they find comfort in the ascent of his brightly shining neshama, a return to the supernal world of its origin, from where its perpetually shining light transforms the darkness of his absence into the eternal brightness of his memory.
May his soul rest eternally united, finally at peace, within the loving arms of Baruch Hakodesh Hu until those that miss him are reunited with him in the world to come; may the mitzvoth performed in his name and our sages that preceded him merit that redemption soon and in our days.