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Poster Commentary
"There is nothing more whole than a broken heart."Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
Poster design:Michael Peters


by Erica Brown

Many experiences in life try to break us: illness, loneliness, the death of those we love, rejection, insecurity, loss. But such experiences also make us more whole as human beings. They expand our range of consciousness and compassion. They enlarge our capacity for inclusion. They make us stronger and help us reach out to others with greater empathy and concern. When we acknowledge that we are broken, we enter a universe where we are not measured by perfection but by our willingness to repair ourselves and the world. We stop judging others only when we can recognize our own inadequacies.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), the Kotzker Rebbe, was one of the most enigmatic figures in the Hasidic world. Born Menachem Mendel Morgensztern to a non-Hasidic family in the south of Poland, the Kotzker Rebbe found himself attracted to Hasidic teachings. He was regarded as a sharp-witted, profound thinker with stern views on ignorance and falsehood. He had little patience for foolishness, which is best illustrated by one of his most famous aphorisms: "All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read."

The Kotzker mysteriously spent the last 20 years of his life in seclusion. Perhaps his own brokenness overwhelmed him; he separated himself from the life of community that so often characterizes Hasidic living. But he gave the world an earnest and profound set of teachings, aptly summarized by his enduring statement of spiritual living: “God is found wherever He is given entry.” God is found in the broken places.


Conversation Guide


The commentary to this quotation reflects upon challenging life experiences that seem to “break” us, but end up strengthening each of us as a person. In a similar vein, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk celebrates the completeness of a broken heart. This oxymoron requires our attention and clarification.

How can the same heart be both “broken” and “whole”?

Can you think of examples of people who grew and became more “whole” through life experiences that appeared to “break” them?

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you move from brokenness to growth and wholeness?

Does this quotation about brokenness say the same as does the quotation of Rabbi Nachman of Breslau, “if you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible”? How are the statements similar—and different?



Each image calls out to us to examine it, to note our thoughts and feelings, and relate these impressions to the quotation. Often clues in the artwork suggest meaning and invite interpretation.

Designer Michael Peters conveys the meaning of the rabbi’s quotation by using a single image on a solid-colored background.

How does the image present the quotation? Was this how you interpreted the quotation without the image?

Why do you think Peters uses two bandages to create the heart, and not a single heart-shaped bandage?

Compare this image with the one depicting the quotation of Rabbi Nachman of Breslau, “if you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible.” What message does each poster convey about the themes of brokenness, healing, and fixing?


Copyright© 2012 Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Please use this guide creatively in your programs.  We’d also love to see what you’re doing and share it with others, so please post on our website using the Share button in The Exchange.


Masters Series©2012, Michael Peters, Quote: Menachem Mendel of Kotzk,

Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA