A Jewish wedding ceremony ends with an strange ritual. The groom lifts his foot up and breaks a wine glass.
Why? Because even at great times of joy, we recognize that brokenness is a part of life.
In fact, we live more fully when we acknowledge and confront the imperfections, the challenges, the disappointments life presents to each of us. A wedding ceremony I performed a few years ago taught me this truth.
The bride was an old friend. We hadn’t talked in years, but she called to tell me that she was engaged. They had a wedding date set for the following June. Would I be available to officiate? “Absolutely,” I replied.
“But, there’s more,” she said softly. “My mom is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. She insists we not change our plans for the big ceremony in June.”
“Could I come to her hospital room and perform a wedding ceremony.” Then her mom, she said, “would have a chance to see me get married.”
I said yes. We set a date. When the time came, I went over to Northwestern Hospital. I wore my usual office attire: a striped button down shirt, grey pants, loafers.
Life and Death
When I got to the hospital room, I realized quickly that I had made a significant fashion mishap. The bride stood outside the room in her wedding gown. The groom beamed next to her in a tuxedo. At least twenty-five friends in suits, ties, dresses, make up, crowded the hospital room.
They stood around the mom’s bed. A hospital worker had brought in an electric keyboard and began playing. Four men brought in a portable canopy covered in flowers. The bride and groom entered to music and song.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I had trouble beginning the ceremony. We succeeded, however, in getting through it. By the end, there was not a dry eye in the room.
When the groom broke the glass, the applause bristled with a mixture of joy and sadness, hope and pain. We knew life had just given us a rare moment of beauty amidst tragedy.
About three weeks later the bride’s mom passed away.
How the Light Gets In
The bride did not have to do what she did. She could have remained angry at life, distancing herself from feelings of love and commitment because of what happened to the person she loved most dearly.
Many people do respond to tragedy in such way. They conclude, as Shakespeare put it, that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Why should we take life seriously when the more seriously we take it, the more likely it is to break out hearts?
Jewish tradition, however, offers us the opposite view. We take life seriously because it is uncertain. Life’s uncertainties make it all the more precious and valuable.
When a crack appears in the vessel of our lives, we need not let it shatter the whole thing. Rather, as the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen put it, “the cracks are how the light gets in.”
To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.