Rabbi Ben Shull

Rabbi Ben Shull is the spiritual leader for the Jewish Congregation of Venice on Auburn Road in Venice.

Jewish Congregation of Venice

Everyone has their favorite scene from the “Wizard of Oz.”

My favorite is when the Wizard reveals himself as merely a Kansas snake oil salesman and speaks to each of Dorothy’s friends.

And The Wizard says to the Tin Man, “As for you, my galvanized friend — you want a heart! You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

And later…Dorothy is saying goodbye to her new friends, before she clicks her heels three times, bound for home. She kisses the Tin Woodsman and the Tin Man sadly remarks as tears threaten to rust his tin: “Now I know I’ve got a heart, because it’s breaking.”

As the Tin Man reminds us, broken hearts are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength — the strength to feel and to feel deeply.

The great Hasidic master, Menachem Mendel of Kotsk was known to have said, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”

When we are humbled, truly humbled, then and only then can true learning and growth occur. When we are broken and thus opened up, then God can enter.

And yet broken hearts still hurt deeply and broken hearts must mend. For surely one can die of a broken heart. It is not surprising then that Jewish tradition teaches God is a “Rofeh Shvuray Lev,” the doctor/healer of broken hearts. And God’s cardiac therapy is not through by-pass or heart valve replacement.

Perhaps the best way to describe God’s cardiac therapy is the story of Sherri Mandell whose 13-year-old son Koby was murdered in May of 2001 by terrorists while hiking with a friend in the Judean desert of Israel. She tells her painful and inspiring story in the book “The Blessing of a Broken Heart.”

Here are some passages from a review of Mandell’s book written by Jerusalem based writer Brian Blum

“In one poignant passage, Sherri describes how her 6-year-old son turned to her in the car at Koby’s funeral to complain that he was hungry,” Blum writes.

“Jolted out of her misery for a brief moment, she asks ‘Didn’t anybody feed you?’ While a policeman runs to the nearby grocery store to pick up a bag of chips Mandell remarks that ‘even at the most tragic, cruelest moment of life, God is pulling me out of my pain and giving me a son who is alive and hungry.’”

This turns out to be the transformative theme running through the entire book. At one point, Mandell writes “Koby is more present in my life now than he has ever been. The trick is to forbid death to be more present than life.”

Mandell and her husband set up the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs an annual six-week summer camp for some 250 kids who have lost someone to terror and other tragedies, as well as sponsoring activities that take bereaved mothers away for a weekend of massage, art therapy and yoga.

“Through the work of the Foundation, Koby has become a symbol of fun and healing, a symbol of love,” Mandell explains. “It means that Koby’s spirit is growing. Koby’s capacity for joy, his great love, is in some way staying alive.”

Sherri Mandell could have died from a broken heart. Instead she lives and as she tells us her son Koby lives in a sense as well.

Sherri Mandell teaches us that God’s healing comes when we give our lives a sense of purpose, with God at her side she is never alone.

Rabbi Benjamin Shull

Jewish Congregation of Venice

600 North Auburn Road, Venice


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