By Rabbi Andrea Steinberger
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in…
Leonard Cohen, the singer and songwriter who died in 2016, wrote these words. He didn’t often talk about his songs and what they mean. But we Jews often saw moments of Jewish liturgy and ideas in his words. I have always found resonance in these words, and I do today.
At certain times in our life, we have endless questions, often with no immediate answers. Sometimes we get stuck in the what if’s and it is terrifying for us. We are overwhelmed with the cracks in the universe. We are overcome by the imperfection all around us. We feel it especially in these months, when we are each quarantined, isolated, trying to stay healthy, trying to keep a virus away from us, from our families.
A crisis of this magnitude reveals our cracks. Our physical infirmities. Our isolation. Our limits in connecting with ourselves and with each other. Personally- we are suffering. Even if all our business goes online. Even if school is accomplished in our homes. There is a silence on our life. We are in our spaces, stripped of our community. More exposed. More stressed. More aware of the cracks in everything. We may feel stuck in all that is imperfect. With us. With our families. With our communities. With science. With our government. We may be wallowing in all that is left unsolved at this moment.
It is very Jewish to also be able to see the light that comes in through each cracks. Leonard Cohen once said about his lyrics, the point is not to look for some perfect type of Eden, but part of living on earth is living in the messiness. Part of accepting a less than perfect state is to recognize all that you have in life. In other people. In yourself.
Maybe we will now, in the current messiness, also see the light. See the physical signs of springtime and redemption all around us. Notice the sunlight, the longer periods of light in our days. And may we also, in Jewish fashion, practice acts of chesed, of generosity, toward other people and toward ourselves. This holy spiritual practice of chesed increases the light in our world and will reveal that deep down inside of us we are rich, we are light, we are pure, even when our cracks and imperfections are revealed. I pray that we will indeed turn to help one another.
I pray that we will carry on through this difficult period of time, and be a part of one another’s journeys. And I pray that in our acts of chesed, toward ourselves and toward one another, we see the light come in.
Andrea Steinberger is a rabbi at the Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, teaching, learning, questioning, and helping students create and expand their Jewish lives and practices during their college years.