One year ago, during the High Holidays, Warner Studios released A Star is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. It is the 4th rendition of the film and although the story spans different eras and even different industries, the plot remains largely the same in each version:
The male lead is a star, a star on the decline who discovers the talented female lead- He connects her to the contacts and platform she needs – Then a Star is Born! And what better day to release the film than on Rosh Hashanah- The day in our Jewish calendar when literally=A star is born, the very first star in the sky- For Rosh Hashanah is not just the Jewish new yearIt is the birthday of the world- the day the world and its array came into being.
The Rabbis teach that in the beginning- all there was, was God. In order for there to be something, God had to make room for creation- God had to withdraw from that space- a process the Kabbalists call TzimTzum. Then God filled that vacuum with light…As it is written:
- In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
- The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
- God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
This light was so brilliant that, according to the Midrash, you could see it from one end of the universe to the other. But alas, it was too powerful- so God stored the light in supernal vessels. Not even these could contain it — they shattered and the light broke into Kelipot- shattered vesselsAnd each shard, each fragment contains a spark of the Divine.
It turns out that this dogma is actually supported by science.
The prevailing scientific theory on the origins of the universe affirms that everything began with a Big Bang- an explosion
In the moment after- the surrounding temperature was about 10 billion degrees and the creative elements- neutrons, electrons and protons- were swimming around in a dark primordial soup.
The was no light- the protons scattered far and wide. Over hundreds of thousands of years as the temperature began to cool- these essential elements joined together, creating atoms that allowed the light to shine through.That is the astrology.
But what about the theology?
The mystics teach that the shards, the kelipot, the shattered vessels are a metaphor for the brokenness of our world. In the wake of that cataclysmic event, God created us- humanity.
For what Purpose? to do tikkun olam, to repair the brokenness of the world into which we were born. At the core of this theology -everything is broken- brokenness is the essence of corporeality. That all material- as opposed to the spiritual- is, by definition- imperfect and broken.
Everything we have, everything we think we own, everything we try to possess as an affirmation of our success- is but a shard.Likewise, from birth, from the moment we take our first breath- we travel on a journey that is filled with imperfection, with error, with hurt, with sin. But each shard, each fragment carries within it a netzitzah- a spark of the original light waiting to shine through, to offer help and healing, support and love.
In 2015 National Geographic came out with an article entitled: “We are Stardust- Literally” The article explains that human bodies are made up of remnants from the massive explosions in the galaxy- Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron and sulfur- all these materials are part of the star dust from the original explosion.
There are 2 stages to the life of a star- the first, when a star is born, gravity pulls gasses to the center core, the temperature rises and the density of the gas causes a nuclear reaction. It is then that the star begins to shine- the energy become light that radiates back out into the universe.This can go on for billions of years until the star’s core can’t hold anymore- the star has too little fuel to sustain itself and its light goes out, drawing everything around it into a dark abyss.
Does that sound familiar? We have all been in a place where we draw our energy toward the light and reflect the warm glow back on people around us. And there are times when we lose our fuel, when our light goes out, when we literally or figuratively collapse into a dark abyss.
William Butler Yeats wrote a poem entitled: The Second Coming that begins:
Turning and turning into the widening gyre; The falcon can not hear the falconer; Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Certainly we can all relate to these words, if not through personal experience, then in the world around us, with its chaos, its suffering, its injustice- life can feel like a dark abyss, like a black hole. In Hebrew, the word for hole is “Rah”- also the word for evil. At the heart of this lies the connection between creation and being broken. At this time of year, and on this day of celebrating creation, we turn toward the image of God as creator- as designer, as the one who crafted beautiful, stable substances out of Tohu V’Vohu- the wild and waste- We might get disheartened when we look at our world or at our own lives and see brokenness.
But in fact Brokenness is the beginning- it is Bereshit.
As the medieval mystic, Meachem Azaria of Fano explained:Just as the seed cannot grow to perfection so long as it maintains its original form– but only by breaking through its shell, allowing a root to emerge into the soil and a plant to stretch toward the sun. So too creation could not become whole so long as it maintained its original form–but only by shattering, filling the earth with shards of the Divine..
Everyone of us is broken. We all bear scars and we all bear sacred shards.So too the world is broken, filled with conflicts and struggles. We have the power to break the cycle of Rah- of darkness of evil- because in addition to creating light, God created love- that is the gift of humanity–The ability to care about others, to show compassion and to forgive.
The Big Bang
Two parallel stories and A Star is Born.
We need both versions.
The power of the mystical version offers us a relationship with the Divine that helps us find ethics and meaning. The power of the scientific version shows us that we are made of the same essential elements as all things. And together we take these insights and transform them into inspiration- to repair the brokenness around us.
In the movie–Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson Maine opens the film as a seemingly shining star, on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans, while Lady Gaga’s character has been diminished by workplace harassment and rejection in the music industry because of her nose. Maine recognizes Ally talent, and he gives her the platform to see her talents realized. The film captures Ally’s nerves and her breakthrough. She sings with hesitance, locking eyes with Maine, finding reassurance and taking center stage. Then Maine is in the background, leading his band and grinning- he’s fulfilled watching Ally succeed. He joins her for the chorus, and then he lets her shine.
As the story unfolds, the energy shifts. We, the audience become increasingly aware of Jackson’s brokenness and of Ally’s shining stardom.In an interview about making the movie, Bradley Cooper said, “I made this movie to contribute to humanity, to speak to a viewer in the audience. I made it because creating art helps us heal one another, to heal the wounds of just being human.”
Indeed we are the stuff thrown out from the explosion that created time and space. We developed the mindfulness, the awareness to understand that we are made of stardust- the mistakes in God’s perfection are us- and we evolved into the souls who bridge TzimTzum and the Big Bang. In the beginning, God was everything, everywhere, infinite and alone.
Rosh Hashanah reminds us that as we celebrate the birthday of the world, the creation of the world, we are a shard, a spark, a star of the divine, with the power to shine brightly, to use our own divinity to send light and warmth back out into the world. Everything and everyone bears elements of the broken stars that exploded in the galaxy long ago.
We are the remnants of shattered vessels from which we gain the strength and inspiration to complete the work of creation. We can become partners with God to alleviate the brokenness and the loneliness around us.In this new year, 5780, may each of us find a center that will hold, May we work together to repair the world. And through our efforts, may a new star be born.