Breaking Up or Breaking Through?

Neil Sedaka’s song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” hit number one on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1962.  And as all who’ve loved and lost know, it is hard to do.  But if you are in the wrong relationship, you must do it if you are ever to move on and unite with the right person.

My wife and I nursed many a young congregant through the heartbreak of a relationship ending.  Indeed, we often encouraged and hastened the goodbye, assuring our tormented friend that only by enduring the tears of break up now, could joy arrive tomorrow.

Ford’s Model T debuted in 1908.  By 1914, a quarter-million were being built each year.  This was terrible for people who had spent years in the horse wagon business.  In fact, in the year 1900, about 110,000 people were employed building or repairing carriages and harnesses.  Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths lived and worked in America that year fitting shoes on countless horses.  And thousands more kept busy sweeping tons of horse manure off city streets.

Jobs for horse-driven transport workers quickly vanished.  However, there were soon far more automobiles than there had ever been horses and carriages and along with the cascade of cars came not thousands, but millions, of new jobs.  The end of the horse-drawn era was tough on many and those who clung to the past deprived themselves of the blessings that were marching down the new highways.

Sometimes a divorce allows two people in a doomed marriage to rebuild new lives; the breakup of an empire allows many newly independent nations to thrive; the breaking up of an old building allows a new one to rise in its place or the breaking apart of an atom releases unimaginable amounts of energy and frees humans from drudgery.  Every act of breaking, as painful as it always is, can launch something new that carries us further down the path of our own development as individuals, as a nation, and as the human family of God’s children.

I’d like to show you what the Hebrew verb for breaking looks like.

ש ב ר

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…
(Psalms 29:5)

But exactly the same word also means place of birth:

…for the children have arrived at the birthstool
(Isaiah 37:3)


,And what is more, exactly the same word .also means food

And Jacob saw that there was food in Egypt…
(Genesis 42:1)

ש ב ר

Ancient Jewish wisdom expresses this equation:

Breakup    =    Birth     =     Sustenance

The Lord’s language is teaching us that when something breaks and is destroyed, it also can give birth to something entirely new which can provide ongoing sustenance. It’s interesting that this idea has carried over into English where we have similar positive connotations for, “giving someone a break,” “breaking into a new business,” the phrase, “break of day” and of course, having a “breakthrough.”

One problem is that often we allow a breaking of something in our lives to break our spirits.  Instead, we must ensure that it becomes the birth of something new and positive.  To learn how to transform breakage into birth we need to see two more uses of the same Hebrew word which help to make everything clear.

And when Gideon heard the recounting of the dream and its interpretation
(Judges 7:15)


I hoped for your salvation, Oh Lord…
(Psalms 119:166)


That’s right, when confronting the breakup of something we regarded as valuable we must analyze and interpret the past but then we must face only forward and anticipate salvation with confidence.

End that bad relationship; analyze what went wrong and why you stuck with it; walk away and don’t look back; face the future with optimism.  Convert your stock of buggy whips into fan belts and join the car revolution.

Breakup        Birth         Sustenance

…if you react with analysis and optimism.


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23 thoughts on “Breaking Up or Breaking Through?”

  1. Excellent analogy, Rabbi Lapin. I have often hear to especially women complain about their horrific relationship and wonder what it is they are holding on to. She knew that the person she is complaining about had the traits but stayed, has children and married. I then get tired of hearing the same complaints day in and day out about the same matter. At times I may limit my conversation with them by cutting down to 30 minutes (extremely long time) or just weekends. Those women turn around and get angry at me for not wanting to listen to their mess. Sorry, I must move on as should you! LOL!

  2. The timeliness of this truth and its retelling go beyond mere coincidence. It speaks to me as an individual, it speaks to our country’s people and their lives (the economy). Thanks for sharing this message with your persistent tone of rational positivity. I have learned a great deal from you over the years. Keep up the great work!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for your kind words Gerald,
      Many timeless truths about the individual are also true for the collective. (not always).
      You encourage me.

  3. These are the moments when you are “my rabbi “ even though you don’t know me. God knows us both. Thank you!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      I am honored, Theresa,
      Rabbi means “my teacher” so even if we have not yet met, I am delighted to bring you material that you find useful teaching.

  4. its hard to walk away and not look back if you have children , even young adults as you have to interact with former partner.
    and in my case dont have other friends/family or job- retirement age. and cant get job even though tried for years. So sort of stuck.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s a tough situation to be in Grace,
      It’s a time for a good friend or two,

  5. One of my oldest wisest friends gave me the following wisdom. I went to him about changing employers Fter 13 years. He asked if I was in a rut. Yes I said. His response ” a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.” Changed employers and still happy since 1997.

  6. Thank you for this subject! I have recently gone through a separation from my husband back in May. The first couple of months were easy but now I find myself thinking of everything good, bad, and what could have been. My spouse did not want to change and leave all destructive behavior in his life. I couldn’t stand any longer and had to leave. Thank you for the true meaning in the Lord’s language. This will certainly be of help to me physically and spiritually. Many blessings Rabbi Lapin to you and your family.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for your blessings, Rebecca,
      I hope you soon heal and are able to move forward into a rebuilt destiny. A wife is usually the worst person to help a man change his destructive behavior, though I am planning on next week’s podcast to address a partial exception to this rule. In general, a man needs more than anything his wife’s admiration and respect and if she is playing the role of moral mentor he feels like a ‘naughty little boy’ being admonished by big strong teacher. Recipe for disaster. The only way forward in these situations is for another man, one respected by the husband, to become involved. Many wives forget how important a ‘mastermind’ circle of good strong men is for their husbands.
      I pray you soon find healing and your divine destiny.

  7. Thank you! Your words were timely!!!!! You spoke directly into my life and gave me words of affirmation that I’m taking the correct action – for both of us. Thank you as well for giving me hope as I look to the future. But sadly it’s also true what you say – it’s very hard and it hurts deeply – especially when I consider the effects on my children. I’m endeavoring to make sure they know they are loved by both their mother and their father. But this does not change the need to move on because children living in a home where their parents are broken and unhappy is not a healthy environment either. It’s hard to believe that by leaving my husband I’m actually being a good role model for my children but I believe I am and I think they are old enough now to understand.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear B-
      Hearing of a divorce always makes my heart weep a little even if I don’t personally know the people involved. Truth is I never really want to encourage or affirm divorce. I accept that it is sometimes necessary and you have obviously decided that your life was one of those cases. But there is always a shred of nagging doubt in my mind that if the wrong influences were removed from the couple and they received wise Biblical counsel, the marriage might have been restored. That said, I obviously know that some are beyond salvage.

      1. I don’t know if you ever look back on old posts – hoping you do…..

        It has now been three weeks since I gave my husband separation papers (draft). This is by far and away THE MOST DIFFICULT thing I have ever done in my life. We are BOTH experiencing a lot of pain. We have been married for 43 years and all of those years have been very dysfunctional and painful. We have gone through separations/reconciliations and hours and hours of counseling over the years. I have always desired to stay in my marriage but this past spring I reached my breaking point and got serious about breaking up and breaking through. I do not want the last third of my life to be lived like the past 43 years – yes all 43 years have been dysfunctional!

        I have a dilemma. My husband is trying to use guilt to get me to stay using the argument that “I spoke vows on our wedding day that included the words – “… for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, until death we should part …..” and by breaking these vows I will be damaging my soul. Is he correct? Is my soul in jeopardy? How do I reconcile Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 with my actions and the advice you are giving in this post? I would admit that these vows and my own guilt over breaking them is what has kept me in this relationship to this point, however, when is it enough? Your advice seems to indicate that we are not bound to these vows for our entire lifetime?

        I have been writing to you with a pseudonym as I would prefer to remain anonymous due to our personal friendship. Even though we live many thousands of miles apart and only see each other infrequently, I would never want to harm that friendship. See your reply to Rebecca in this post – this is what is missing in my husband’s life — a male friend that would give him godly advice, honesty and friendship. I know he respects you in this way but whether or not he would ever break down his defenses is an altogether different question. You are MY Rabbi and I have great respect for you and Susan and appreciate all of your weekly advice in TTs and ATR. – Brea

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Brea–
          My sympathies to you for the predicament in which you find yourself. The most important thing I want to convey to you at this point is that we are bound to care for one another’s bodies and our own souls. In other words, if a poor man needs some food, don’t worry about what getting as free sandwich might do to his soul Just give him the sandwich and worry about what not doing so might do to your soul. In other words, don’t pay much attention to other people expressing concern for your soul, particularly if they haven’t been too forthcoming with the sandwiches if you grasp my meaning.
          Inadequately but warmly

  8. I’m amazed every time you share these Hebrew words that Hebrew isn’t mandatory in school. Back in the day in order to get into college you needed to be fluent in Greek and Latin. What a waste.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Blows my mind also, Shawn,
      My father studied Greek; I studied Latin–what a lamentable waste of time that was. Then I learned Hebrew, studied linguistics and etymology and all opened up. Never got a speck of value from Latin and my father always hoped that when he traveled to Greece he’d at least be able to talk to the locals. No such luck; modern Greece has little resemblance to the Greek of the classics.

  9. Sometimes breakups are necessary.and after a breakup occurs it can be difficult to find a new relationship.sometimes it can take 10 years to find a good one.that can be very hard for some people.because some people get too lonely by themselves.i can’t figure out how single people do it except that maybe they are called to be other thing I can’t understand is why after a few years of being with someone their respect fades.makes me lose faith in humanity.

    1. Evalene,
      It sounds like you’ve been through a very painful and difficult breakup – fairly recent, to you, although it may have been years ago. I understand, because I have been there. It took much more than 10 years for me to find that good relationship, and I went through several more not-so-good ones in the process. But during those long years, God was working to bring me to a point of being able to have a good and lasting relationship. It is interesting that you said “respect” fades. Most people would have said that love fades, or even dies. What do you see as respect? Do you and the other person have the same view of what respect is? Sometimes we’re on the same page, but in different chapters. Sometimes we may even be on the same page number, but in different books! Having a real heart-to-heart discussion of the matter might bring understanding and even restore respect, as well as the relationship. Lose faith in humanity? That happens to a lot of us. Faith in humanity comes and goes. It’s faith in God that really counts. Keep faith in Him and look for ways that He is working to strengthen you, to give you a rebirth and sustenance. I pray that God will be with you and in you through this time.

    2. I was so hurt and depressed by my break-up with a girlfriend I had met at church. Our dating was completely pure up until our relationship, and was still pure by the world’s terms after we were going steady although we had a lot of kissing and hugging added in the mix. I was looking forward to marrying her, but I think that she might have been wanting consumation before marriage, where I was determined to wait. She broke up with me because she was asked to be on a mission team and I was not yet even in leadership in our church, and to her we seemed to be on different paths. Soon after we broke up I was asked to be in leadership as well as being a worship leader. After our breakup, though, I went through a time of incredible pain, my chest had a constant pressure and pain, I couldn’t breathe or sleep or eat and I would not be able to get things done and have to go to the bathroom and cry. I don’t think the pain has ever quite gone away. I had another dating relationship after that in the church and that also ended in breakup, which was painful, but not as bad as the first one. I did not get married till 7 and a half years after the first and 6 years after the second. During that time I had many more relationship. Looking back I see that that first break-up was a blessing because we were so intellectually different. The second dating relationship was much more of an intellectual and talent match as we sang wedding duets together and she was an engineer while I was a satellite TV technician and Bible student. The woman I married teaches math at the University and I did masters work in economics; we run our own business together and we share a deep love for God and his word and a hatred for socialism and communism, We have been married for 22 years this October and haave 2 beautiful children: one will be a Junior at The King’s College in NYC and the other will be a senior at the Classical School in our city. I was 36 when I married but I learned a lot from those relationships that has helped me in my marriage. The breakup has given birth in a beautuiful way, has sustained us and we look for it to produce more birth and sustainance in the future.

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Thanks for such a searingly honest and introspective letter, Brent,
        So this first relationship breakup that so pained you was when you were about 28 or 29 if my arithmetic is correct. You don’t say how long you you and she ‘dated’ but I wonder if it was too long perhaps? Relationships are organic and if they aren’t growing, they are dying and a long term dating relationship which remains physically chaste eventually loses momentum, stalls, and begins to die. The extreme pain you suffered also suggests a longer dating time than is good. You might have been a late developer but the bottom line is that you found the woman God meant for you and you’ve built a beautiful family together. You have much reason to put your knees in those bald spots in the carpet next to your bed every night.

    3. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Evalene,
      Thank you for writing such a vulnerable letter. You will have seen that several faithful brothers and sisters have spoken to you. For instance, Sonia reminded you that we are not called to have faith in humanity–only in Him that created humanity.
      I pray you find authentic connection

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