06/25/2015 02:09 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2016

Overcoming Tragedy in a Broken World


In Judaism, we have customs that encourage us to remember pain and adversity in moments of joy. At a wedding, for example, we break a glass the moment before we joyously shout "mazel tov" to the bride and groom. The breaking of the glass symbolizes the fragility of life and the tragic nature of humanity. Even at the joyous occasion of a marriage, Judaism teaches us we still much acknowledge pain.

Lately, this world reminds me of the broken glass. The senseless violence in Charleston has left many of us paralyzed by the profound sadness coexisting alongside all the good in the world. How can we prepare our children to overcome adversity in their lives when the tragedies around the country leave us brokenhearted and powerless?

Somehow my mother did it, and she did it under the most crippling of circumstances. At 28, just six months after giving birth to my younger brother, she buried her husband, my father. Her world crashed down in the very moments she was growing her family.

My mother faced unimaginable pain, but amidst the devastation and pain in her life, she taught me the meaning of mazel. The word literally means "a drop from above." But as Rabbi Aron Moss explains, "There is another meaning of the word mazel." He explains, "Mazel is the term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul. The mystics say that only a ray of our soul actually inhabits our body. The main part of the soul, our mazel, remains above, shining down on us from a distance."

When my biological father died, my mother had two choices -- allow the broken glass surrounding her life to destroy her, or to look into the reflection of the glass and allow its brokenness to guide her upward. My mother chose to look up. It's not that the pain disappeared, but she trusted in the part of her soul shining down from above. My mom remarried, bringing an incredible man I am blessed to also call my father, into our lives. We moved forward just like the celebration that follows the broken glass on a wedding day. We never forgot about the pain and always honored the memory of my biological father, but we lived life looking upward, focused on the tov, the Hebrew word for "good."

Seeing the tov doesn't mean we forget about the pain. Feeling happiness, moving forward, doesn't make the broken glass any less sharp. We all still have a duty to repair the brokenness that surrounds us. And by acknowledging the pain, even in times of joy, we remind ourselves that life exists in a delicate balance. Just as we break a glass in remembrance at a wedding, our ability to feel pain even in times of joy propels us forward in our efforts to improve our communities.

In weeks such as these, when the news cycle paints a picture of tragedy and pain, perhaps we should look for the mazel. The mazel won't lessen the hurt and it won't fix the brokenness. But just maybe, it can allow us to also see the tov.

May we all see the tov around us, gain strength from our mazel and work together to repair the brokenness in our world.

Stacey is a legal skills professor, photographer and writer living in Gainesville, Florida. You can read more of Stacey's essays on her blog or you can stay connected with Stacey by following her on Twitter and Facebook.