Another Empty Chair


About a year ago—while watching President Obama’s State of the Union address—I stumbled upon an empty chair.  You probably noticed it, too.

My eyes welled up with tears; this was an involuntary response to genuine pain. It was as if I had literally stumbled on the chair and slammed my knee against its unyielding leg.

I am reminded today of another chair, which belonged to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Lovingly fashioned by one of his followers in 1808, this chair can now be found in the Breslov synagogue in Jerusalem.  According to part-history/part-legend, no one but the rabbi ever sat in this chair—even after his death— and his followers never appointed a new leader, because they believed that Rebbe Nachman’s spirit continued to guide and protect them.  During the 1920’s, when Jews of the Ukraine suffered persecution at the hands of the Cossacks, the chair was dismantled and stored for safekeeping. Jews fleeing Russia during WWII took the chair to Jerusalem, where it was later reassembled and restored to its original beauty.  The story of this chair’s journey was retold by Howard Schwartz, who skillfully rendered its mystical quality in just three pages.

Earlier this week, Gabrielle Giffords took an important step in her life’s journey, leaving an empty chair in the Congress once again. I am crying openly as I listen to her declare, “I’m getting better. Every day, my spirit is high.”  She carefully articulates each word; her steady voice reveals the strength and courage that has enabled her to reach this point in her recovery.

There will be a special election in Arizona and this empty chair will be filled by another representative. Perhaps, while her body does the “hard work” of healing, Giffords’ spirit will continue to guide and protect her former colleagues.

El na r’fah na lah.  God, please, heal her, please.

May she be restored to her original beauty.


Comments (6)

This is so beautifully put… Amen.

Thank you, Fran. I am just awed by her strength; she is a real hero and role model for facing adversity.

I agree — I had tears watching Gabrielle’s video. I hope her strength and family continue to sustain her on this long and difficult journey and that she is one day able to choose what she wants to do without worrying about health constraints.

I too noticed that chair last year. It felt like Elijah’s chair. But I love even more the association with Rebbe Nachman.

May she go and grow from strength to strength.

Beautiful derash!

R’ Nachman’s empty chair is a powerful symbol of how much we effect each other and the potentiality of bringing holiness into dark moments, even after our physical presence is elsewhere.

Rep. Giffords empty chair was not a symbol, it was fact. Through the powerful narrative of tragedy and recovery, it had begun to take on a life of its own.

Your insight to connect the two made both stories more present, actualizing their potentiality.

Thank you.

May Rep. Giffords have a speedy and complete recovery.

Thank you for your comment, and your insight about the way in which Gabrielle Giffords’ chair has transformed from a fact to a symbol. I hope that our collective and individual prayers on her behalf benefit her recovery.

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