Leading Towards Shleimut (Wholeness)

Leading Towards Shleimut (Wholeness)

Dr. Bill Robinson

Our hearts our broken, our community is fractured, and the world is shattered.  What if leadership is the practice of repairing that which is broken, returning the world to a sense of wholeness?  What if it’s within our ability to do it right now and right here?

In the Jewish mystical tradition, the world we know was created through an accidental breaking.  There was not, as in Greek and many other traditions, a once perfect world from which we have descended.  Rather, it was imperfect from the beginning, a broken world that we are called to repair.

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring this world into being, to make room for creation, God first drew in a breath, contracting God’s Self. From that contraction darkness was created. And when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), the light that came into being filled the darkness, and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.

In this way God sent forth those ten vessels, like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. Had they all arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. But the vessels were too fragile to contain such a powerful, divine light. They broke open, split asunder, and all the holy sparks were scattered like sand, like seeds, like stars. Those sparks fell everywhere, but more fell on the Holy Land than anywhere else.

That is why we were created — to gather the sparks, no matter where they are hidden. God created the world so that the descendants of Jacob could raise up the holy sparks. That is why there have been so many exiles — to release the holy sparks from the servitude of captivity. In this way the Jewish people will sift all the holy sparks from the four corners of the earth.

And when enough holy sparks have been gathered, the broken vessels will be restored, and tikkun olam, the repair of the world, awaited so long, will finally be complete. Therefore, it should be the aim of everyone to raise these sparks from wherever they are imprisoned and to elevate them to holiness by the power of their soul.[1]

Within each of us is a divine spark, calling for release.  When we encounter another face-to-face, seeing them as a unique expression of the Divine, we release a holy spark.  When we support the fullness of their self-expression, we release a holy spark.  When we ensure that every body has the food, shelter, health care, education, and love they need for their soul to thrive in this broken world, we release sparks and begin to repair the world.

The challenges we face our increasingly complex and uncertain – climate collapse, increasing inequality, political polarization, unknown technological impacts, social disconnection, spiritual malaise and ceaseless war.  To address them, we need diverse perspectives, the will to tolerate creative failures, and arguments l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven).  They will not be solved by technical plans or recourse to experts.  These are important but incomplete.  And, alone problematic when we are expected to put aside our unique perspectives in favor of some objective view, to trust to certainty instead of creativity, to diminish difference and disputation in favor of homogeny and (a false) harmony. 

The source of repair is to be found in the immediacy of relationships we nurture and in the communities we foster.  Our relationships and communities are not means to some other end; they are the goal.  We will discover a sense of wholeness, a world beginning to knit itself together, within the context of our daily lives. 

We will do this by embracing our brokenness.  As Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk declared “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” Our brokenness is not a crack that needs to be paved over; but rather the source of our healing.  Like a vase that shatters, none of the pieces – none of us – are broken in the same way.  This grants us each a unique perspective, and all our perspectives are needed to see the whole and move towards wholeness.

Yet, we will never really return the world to wholeness, because it never was whole to begin.  Rather, we are called to make a tikkun (repair) that brings forth beauty from imperfection.  Thus, in the story of the king’s cracked diamond, the jeweler repairs the gem not by covering over the crack but by extending its jagged line to make a flower.  We will never heal the scars we have made on the earth, but we can repurpose them for good.  With hard work, open pit mines become nature preserves.  An abandoned mill becomes affordable artists’ studios.  And, every day, we can upcycle – transforming our used “throwaways” into new uses – alongside recycling.

Our brokenness drives us to righteous action.  As is says in Proverbs (24:16), the righteous person is one that rises after having fallen.  And, every moment contains the potential for repair, for rising renewed to action.  It’s within our ability to do it right now and right here.  We only need say hinienu – meaning, we are here in all our imperfections willing to do what is asked.

So, how do we lead towards shleimut (wholeness)?  We heal hearts when we are fully present for another, making them feel seen and heard.  When we hold another through grief and anxiety.  When we seek to understand before seeking to be understood.  When we put aside what we want to give and give what is wanted. 

We mend community when we invite diversity into our spaces by inviting in new friends and encouraging old friends to voice unspoken desires, concerns, and perspectives.  We do this knowing it will create discomfort, but also believing that when we hear one another, when we help another work through their struggles, when we step up to in support of another’s aspirations, this discomfort becomes a source of communal creativity and flourishing.  Moreover, this process of seeking to understand reveals the cracks in our community that have always been there if hidden.  Mending only comes after revealing the scar tissue that has covered over old wounds.

We repair the world when pause to see both the blessings and curses, the places where repair is proceeding and where we are still despoiling nature.  We redeem the holy sparks when we create space for life in all its myriad forms to thrive, which can happen by supporting green zones across the planet and by planting wildflowers in our backyards. 

This whole process begins with our selves.  It begins by listening to our own hearts, bodies, minds and spirits.  What am I feeling at this moment?  Where is the discomfort in my own body?  What’s the source of confusion in my mind?  Toward what brave space is my spirit nudging me to go?  If we don’t understand ourselves first and don’t work on being patient and present in our own brokenness/struggles, then we can’t be fully there for another, for our community and for the world. 

And, here’s the hardest part.  As we are each a divine spark hidden within a broken shard, we are each the source of solution and the problem.  We are part of the problem when we fail to fully listen to another, when our voices speak words that denigrate another’s humanity (and divinity), and when we live in ways that continue the destruction of our planet.  Each and every day, we fail to live up to our potential.  We fall, but we should not let this stop us from rising up. 

Yet, in rising, we cannot return to the same old ways.  In the pause before we rise, we need to engage in repentance.  As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik teaches, in repentance we create ourselves anew.  We do this through aligning our actions to a future desired state, so that our past no longer dominates our present.  To lead towards wholeness is to envision a world repaired and to walk the land in the light of that vision, each step a prayer that heals.


[1] Howard Schwartz, “How the Ari Created a Myth and Transformed Judaism” in Tikkun, March 11, 2011 (http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/how-the-ari-created-a-myth-and-transformed-judaism)

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