The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy after Heartbreak

Scribner  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.

Read Charles S. Sherman's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

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Book Club 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?

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