Lev Nishbar (Naftali Kempeh)

September 14, 2022

During the month of Elul, and especially during those days on which we recite Selichos, we are tasked with taking stock of our actions – looking deep within our souls to assess our relationship with Hashem and look for ways to genuinely improve this most cherished bond.

The problem is, oftentimes when we turn to face ourselves in the mirror – imperfections, character flaws and all – we might be overcome by feelings of despair and dejection. How could Hashem want to have a relationship with someone who has repeatedly failed Him in so many ways? How can we even think of standing before Him, sullied in sin as we are, in the hopes of finding favor in His all-knowing eyes?

We want so badly to return to Hashem and to dwell in His house – our neshamos yearn for closeness to Hashem! Deep down we know that those bad habits and behaviors are not who we really are! However, the feelings of sadness and self-pity that usually follow this awakening realization are not going to get us to where we need to be. In fact, just the opposite is true. The more despondent we become, the harder it is to free ourselves from the yetzer hara’s gloomy grip. It is these types of feelings that we must do our utmost to avoid.

To clarify the matter even further, Rabi Nachman of Breslov writes (Sichos HaRan 41:1) that the feelings of broken-heartedness and the feelings of sadness – although they might seem similar on the surface – are not at all the same. Depression – which eventually leads to hopelessness – is one of the many nefarious nets that the yetzer hara uses to trap us and keep us from doing teshuvah. A broken heart, on the other hand, is the master key we need to unlock our true essence – to allow our neshamos to reconnect with their Source.

The Kotzker Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, would famously remark, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” He based this astute statement, of course, on the many proofs found in the pesukim of Tehillim. In one such pasuk (34:19), Dovid Hamelech tells us, קָרוֹב ה’ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי לֵב Hashem is close to the brokenhearted – to the ones who break free of their natural temptations, who do away with behaviors of fakery and folly, who embark on the pathway of teshuva so that they may build a real and honest kesher with Him.

A broken heart allows us to be vulnerable. It allows us to see clearly that there is nothing more important than our relationship with the Borei Olam. It enables us to reach up to Him from a place of humility, to admit our dependence on Him and to readily accept His Kingship. It is for these reasons and more that a broken heart is extremely dear and precious to Hashem.

We’ll conclude with a beautiful story that aptly illustrates this idea.

One year, before Rosh Hashanah, the heilige Ba’al Shem Tov said to one of his senior chassidim, Reb Zev Wolf Kitzes, “This year, you will once again blow the shofar for us. I want you to study all the kavanos that pertain to the shofar so that you can focus on them while you are blowing.”

R’ Zev applied himself to the task with both joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the Kabbalistic writings that discuss the great significance of the shofar and what its sounds achieve on the various levels of reality, and in the various chambers of the soul. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah, so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and R’ Zev stood at the bimah, surrounded by a sea of tallis-draped mispallelim. He reached into his pocket and his heart froze; the paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone! Furiously, he searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes had seemingly incapacitated his brain; his mind was totally blank!

Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. Now he must blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanos. R’ Zev had no choice but to blow the sounds required by halacha without the intense concentration he had planned. When he had finished, he walked back to his seat brokenhearted, all the while avoiding his rebbe’s gaze.

At the conclusion of davening, the Ba’al Shem Tov made his way over to the corner where R’ Zev sat, sobbing under his tallis. “That was a most extraordinary shofar blowing we heard today!” exclaimed the Ba’al Shem Tov.
For a moment, R’ Zev didn’t know what to say. Finally, he cried, “But Rebbe, I let you and the entire kehillah down. I didn’t blow the way you asked me to.”

“Let me explain to you what I asked,” said the Ba’al Shem Tov in a gentle tone. “In the king’s palace, there are numerous gates and entranceways leading to many halls and chambers. Those in charge, the palace-keepers, have large rings containing many keys, each of which opens a different passageway. However, there is also one key that fits all the locks, a ‘master key’ that opens all the doors.

“The kavanos that I instructed you to learn are important. They are keys, each unlocking a different door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key that unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the Divine palace. It is the key which allows us to soar straight up to heaven.

“That master key, the one which you possessed as you blew the shofar this morning, is a broken heart.”

Lev Nishbar was composed and sung by the soulful singing sensation Naftali Kempeh on his 2020 album Ana Elech. From beginning to end, Ana Elech makes for a wonderful way to rouse your spirit of inspiration – a perfect accompaniment, I believe, to the sounds of teshuva that surround us this time of year.

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