The Gift of a Broken Heart

The Fellowship  |  September 19, 2019

young girl holding red heart in open hands

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
  you, God, will not despise. — Psalm 51:16-17

The Hebrew month of Elul, which means “search,” is a time of intense soul-searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is also a time to begin the process of asking for forgiveness for wrongs done to others. This is one of 13 devotions on repentance and forgiveness. To learn more about the shofar, which is blown every weekday during Elul¸ download our complimentary Bible study.

We all have thoughts and feelings about, well, our thoughts and feelings. But if we are critical of ourselves for thinking depressing thoughts or feeling sad, we might become even more distressed because we are thinking and feeling that way. We reprimand ourselves for not having enough gratitude. We feel unworthy for not having enough faith. We feel worse and worse as we critique our negative thoughts and emotions. If this train of thought continues, we will continue to spiral downward – unless something breaks us out of the pattern.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a great 18th century rabbi, once said, “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” Understanding the rabbi’s words is the key to breaking out of this negative thought pattern.

You see, the rabbi understood that a broken heart has great value. A broken spirit presents a wonderful opportunity. When we are down we can approach God in true humility, and there is no more powerful way to approach God.

When King David penned Psalm 51:16-17, he was heartbroken. David wrote this psalm right after being confronted by the prophet Nathan for his sin in sleeping with Bathsheba, a woman whose husband had been away at war. David had compounded his sin when, after discovering that Bathsheba was pregnant, ordered Bathsheba’s husband to the frontlines, where he was killed.

Nathan let David know in no uncertain terms that he had sinned and would incur the consequences. David was heartbroken – not just because he would have to endure physical punishment, but because of the damage that he had done to his soul and to his relationship with God.

In Psalm 51:16-17, David had reached the lowest point in his life. And then he did something remarkable — he used rock bottom as a springboard to propel himself upward.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise,” he wrote. David understood the value of a broken spirit and heart. He continued, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” In this psalm, David declared that a broken spirit was even greater than an offering brought to the Holy Temple.

To fully appreciate what David was saying, we have to understand the value of the sacrifice in Jewish worship. It cleansed people of sin, brought joy to their hearts, and inspired their souls. David was saying that a broken spirit was an even greater way to achieve all that. A broken spirit can evoke forgiveness and restore our relationship with God. A broken heart, when given over to the Lord, can bring us even closer to Him than we were before.

The message for us is to never despair over feelings of sadness or brokenness. Rather, we should embrace those feelings, and like David, offer them up to God as the sacrifice of a broken heart and as an opportunity to grow closer to Him.

To learn more about the approaching High Holy Days, download our complimentary Bible Study, Shofar: The Sounds of Repentance.

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