Saturday, January 19, 2008

603. The parasha of mistakes

Last Shabbat I learned to think of Bo as the parasha of mistakes.

Moshe really screwed up. He failed nine times to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites, noted the rabbi at services, yet kept persevering. How many of us would be so persistent, especially if we had to explain ourselves directly to God ("Um, just harden his heart for me one more time, OK?")

The words kaved, harden (as in "God hardened Pharaoh's heart") and kavod, honor, are from the same root, teaching that we can't ignore our mistakes, our rigid and rough places. They exist to be overcome, and in the process transform us into people like Moshe, worthy of honor. And there's hope for us all: according to the Kabbalists, the last syllable of the word "Paroh," when reversed, becomes "er," awakening.

On Shabbat morning we heard about an example of this kind of radical change: the Sulhita, a program that brings Arab and Israeli youth together for week-long encounters in the Israeli desert. In nature and through music, sports, and other shared activities, they have an opportunity to see each in a way that lenses of politics and religion will not allow. They learn that not everything they have been taught about the other is true.

Music, said our speaker, is one of the best tools for this kind of transformation. Just the thought of a lullaby we once knew as a child will make us smile; imagine if our enemy chose to learn and sing it for us. This is what children at the Sulhita experience as they listen to each other's songs and begin look into each other's hearts. They move past anger, fear and resentment and, slowly, struggle to find common ground.

I listened to this story and thought of my own insecurities, mistakes, and lessons learned as a child that I believe my parents did not mean to teach and which--in their honor, and with loving memory--I have worked hard to forget. As I grow more aware of my own places of kaved, inflexibility, bias, my song really does change, quite literally. I know I sound very different now than in the past; my voice is freer, willing and able to leap, engage, explore. But if I want to sing new music like the children at the Sulhita, I must acknowledge that I will sometimes have rocks in my mouth, like Moshe. Goals will turn into setbacks, answers into questions, and this leapfrog path forward will never end.

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