The Broken Jar

Headshot of Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat
Headshot of Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat
Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat

Vice President of Community Engagement
Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat is the Vice President of Community Engagement for the Board of Rabbis.  She was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2001, and has taught for the program since 2002.

posted on July 14, 2014
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

I recently read a book by P.J. Long, a mom who suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell off a horse. In her book, Gifts from a Broken Jar, she recounts this story from India about a village boy who brought water to a wealthy man.


Every day, the boy walked several miles from the village to the river and back again, carrying water in two clay jars, one in his left hand and one in his right. The man paid for the water that was delivered - one full jar and one half full, for the jar in one hand was cracked and its water leaked out along the roadside. Over the long months, the boy made many trips carrying water.

One day he sat to rest before returning to the river, and a spirit in the cracked jar spoke to him. "I am sorry, Master, that you have to work harder because of me. If I were perfect like your other jar, you would not need to take so many trips. And you could collect more money too. I am sorry that because of me, your life is made miserable."

The boy was surprised to hear such words. He did not think his life was miserable. He replied to the spirit, "Because of you, I am very lucky. A broken jar makes life beautiful. Come, let me show you."

Together they walked back to the river. One side of the path was bare and dusty. But along the other side, where water had trickled down from the broken jar, the way was strewn with wildflowers.


PJ Long saw the years of her life following her brain injury reflected in this story. Although her recuperation entailed tremendous struggle, she noted the unexpected gifts along the way. She wrote: "Even though things turned out differently than I might have hoped three years ago, truly now I see how a broken jar makes life beautiful."

This week's Torah portion reflects this spiritual lesson. Last week's portion ended with a crisis. The Israelites began to participate in an idolatrous, orgiastic cult which led to a plague erupting among the people. Then, a priest named Pinchas killed an Israelite man and a Moabite woman who were copulating near the sanctuary, and the plague halted.

God gave Pinchas a covenant of peace for him and for his descendants for all time. However the text hints that Pinchas' peace was broken.

The Hebrew letter vav is a vertical line. However, in the Torah scroll, when God gives Pinchas the covenant of peace, the stem of the letter vav in the word shalom (peace) doesn't extend down all the way. As Rabbi Harold Kushner notes, the missing piece of the stem is understood to indicate that the kind of peace achieved by violence will always be a "flawed, incomplete peace." The rest of the Torah portion recounts how to celebrate the holidays and beginning of the new months of the year.

Thus, the portion moves from a crisis to broken peace to celebration, the same spiritual arc that PJ followed. By making peace with our brokenness, we are moved to cherish life.

This past month, the hearts of the Jewish people throughout the world have been broken by the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar. We are further heartbroken and outraged by the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair, apparently by Jewish extremists in revenge for the murder of the three boys. Now Hamas is firing an intensifying barrage of rockets into Israel.

The vav in Shalom has been severed yet again by terrorists. Our prayers for the safe return of these teens now changed to prayers for strength, healing and above all peace. Like the broken jar in the story, we must continue to work toward sustaining life. May the wildflowers of summer bring comfort to our broken hearts.