fragility and חָזָק חָזָק

After I dropped and broke my camera, it got lost on the way back to America to get fixed. So much for extended warranties…

My Kindle is not working. Part of the screen doesn’t show up clearly. Amazon offered me some money off a new one. Should I feel guilty that it lasted four years or feel glad that it served me well?

My phone charger is missing somewhere in the canyons of boxes at our house; my phone still has a crack in it that I’ve learned to live with.

I’ve long been attracted to the Japanese embrace of simplicity and beyond; the broken, the irregular (Wabi-Sabi!), and the Japanese art of honoring the brokenness with

the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

In the Vimeo video below, directed by Daniel Evans, we hear a first-hand account of the importance of kintsugi in Japanese culture. At 27 years old, Kyoto, Japan-based Muneaki Shimode is the youngest professional kintsugi craftsman. He explains that in Japanese culture, “it’s very important that we understand the spiritual backgrounds or the history behind… the material.” This is interwoven with the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which means “to find beauties in broken things or old things,” Shimode explains.

The kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history. Shimode points out that “The importance in kintsugi is not the physical appearance, it is… the beauty and the importance [that] stays in the one who is looking at the dish.”

Things break. That is their nature. We break. That is ours. We are experiencing so many broken people this week, so many who worked too hard holding together their fragility that it took all their strength until they could not pretend any longer.

Then there are the people who showed their strength by not pretending at all, until their bodies gave way to the universe. They teach us so much about how to be strong; those of us who have met them should know how blessed we are by their presence and by their loss. This is the חָזָק חָזָק part of the story here.

Our 3 year-old granddaughter, who is as comfortable in Hebrew as in English, is also quite comfortable using mixed codes in her everyday speech. Since certain words are always associated with certain activities, she uses whatever language she is surrounded with for those activities. So, blowing her nose is “clearing her נוזלת” (which seems to be her way of saying “making it clear”, even though it means”clearing the drip”), most likely because she is asked to do that while in nursery school. One other phrase that she uses often is when she asks you to fix her shoes חָזָק חָזָק; really hard and tight, also probably because she does it for herself in school. חָזָק usually means strong. The doubling of the word shows doubled intention; really really tight. Interesting to me is that it’s also the beginning of the phrase used in Ashkenazi synagogues when completing the reading of one of the Five Books of Moses, as will be done this Shabbat with the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar. The whole phrase said is חֲזַק חֲזַק ונתחזק, chazak chazak v’nitchazek, a combination of texts from the Book of Joshua “לֹא יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ… הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ” (א’, ח-ט),and from Samuel 2 10:12 חֲזַק וְנִתְחַזַּק בְּעַד עַמֵּנוּ וּבְעַד עָרֵי אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ”.  Be really strong and we will strengthen ourselves, so we can strengthen ourselves. We will gain strength from each other, as we recognize and acknowledge our fragility.

Those from Sephardic or Mizrachi communities say a similar phrase after one finishes his turn reading from the Torah, חזק וברוך, Hazak uBarukh. Be strong and be blessed.

We should all be strong and blessed indeed.

 

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