The Bro­ken and the Whole: Dis­cov­er­ing Joy after Heartbreak

By – February 24, 2014

In his new book The Bro­ken and the Whole: Dis­cov­er­ing Joy After Heart­break, Rab­bi Charles S. Sher­man tells his sto­ry of how being the father to a son who expe­ri­enced a trau­mat­ic stroke changed his life. More than only recount­ing the myr­i­ad chal­lenges he and his fam­i­ly have faced in car­ing for Eyal over the past decades, Rab­bi Sher­man describes how Eyal’s health and relat­ed dis­abil­i­ties and needs set him on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and spir­i­tu­al explo­ration that he had nev­er anticipated.

Rab­bi Sherman’s book ben­e­fits tremen­dous­ly from its long-term per­spec­tive. His reflec­tions are all the rich­er for the con­tem­pla­tion that has clear­ly hap­pened over time. This is most pro­found­ly illus­trat­ed in the sec­tions where he grap­ples with the real­i­ty of his son as an adult and his own rela­tion­ships with his wife and four oth­er chil­dren. As his sto­ry unfolds over twen­ty-plus years, Rab­bi Sher­man avoids a dra­mat­ic sense of both tri­umphal­ism and des­o­la­tion, allow­ing him to focus on the changes in per­cep­tion that come with matu­ri­ty and self-awareness.

The book is struc­tured top­i­cal­ly, rather than chrono­log­i­cal­ly. While this makes it slight­ly more dif­fi­cult to string togeth­er the nar­ra­tive of Rab­bi Sherman’s sto­ry, it allows him to present tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish teach­ings and sources that spoke direct­ly to him at par­tic­u­lar times. In this con­text, they are sources of per­son­al hope, com­fort, mean­ing, and con­nec­tion rather than remote lessons. In this struc­ture Rab­bi Sher­man main­tains the del­i­cate bal­ance between his voice as hus­band and father and his voice as rab­bi, which is essen­tial, as his expe­ri­ence of reach­ing out to peo­ple as an author­i­ty fig­ure some­times threat­ens to over­whelm his more con­fi­den­tial tone.

Fur­ther­more, this orga­ni­za­tion strat­e­gy allows the read­er to pick out the sec­tions that he or she may be best able to relate to, expand­ing the mes­sage far beyond those who strug­gle with their roles as care­givers or are liv­ing in the after­math of a med­ical emer­gency. Instead of a tome of reli­gious plat­i­tudes, this book is an exam­ple of some­times hard won humil­i­ty and faith that speaks to the human expe­ri­ence of strug­gling to accept life cir­cum­stances that are not nec­es­sar­i­ly of our choosing.

Deb­o­rah Miller received rab­bini­cal ordi­na­tion at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. She lives in New Jer­sey with her hus­band and daugh­ter, where she serves as a hos­pice chap­lain and teacher.

Discussion Questions

1. What most sur­prised you, and what most inspired you from The Bro­ken and the Whole?

2. In the Per­se­ver­ance” chap­ter, Charles Sher­man describes the long, tir­ing rou­tine required each morn­ing to get Eyal up and ready for the day, and acknowl­edges that if any­one had told him, years before, this would be his life, he wouldn’t have believed that he could do it. And yet, day after day, his fam­i­ly faced the pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able until it became their new nor­mal. Do you agree that None of us under­stand the strength we have until we come face-to-face with the unimag­in­able?” Dis­cuss if and how this relates to your own experiences.

3. Sher­man describes the many instances that he and his fam­i­ly encoun­tered oth­ers’ sur­pris­ing opti­mism, as well as many times when their own opti­mism was met with sur­prise from those around them. What do you think about hope and opti­mism in the face of tragedy and adver­sity? Dis­cuss Sherman’s asser­tion that Fail­ure isn’t not achiev­ing your dream; it’s the despair of not engag­ing the dream, not keep­ing it alive.”

4. Dis­cuss Sherman’s view of faith: Could it be that the per­sis­tence of faith hinges on our very abil­i­ty to feel com­fort­able not know­ing — that the more we can incor­po­rate mys­tery and con­tra­dic­tion into our con­cept of God, the more we can believe even amidst our pain?”

5. In the Acts of Lov­ing-Kind­ness” chap­ter, Sher­man describes the many ways peo­ple have been extra­or­di­nar­i­ly kind to he and his fam­i­ly. Which exam­ple did you find the most touch­ing? When has some­one dis­played lov­ing-kind­ness toward you, not ask­ing for any­thing in return?

6. What did you think of Eyal’s Bar Mitzvah?

7. In the Mar­riage” chap­ter, Sher­man writes about the neces­si­ty of an almost lim­it­less will­ing­ness to give of your­self” for a hap­py, endur­ing mar­riage. What are some ways that Chuck and Leah con­tin­ue to give of them­selves in the Chuck’s telling?

8. Do you relate most to Rab­bi Sher­man, Leah and Eyal? In what ways?

9. What did you take away from The Bro­ken and the Whole? Do you see ways to apply it to your own life?