August 26, 2014
At our Shabbat service in Lithia Park this past Shabbos, Russ Hannan relayed a great snippet from an NPR interview with a blues musician that he had heard, who was discussing what happens when one plays the wrong note. What is important, the musician said, is not the wrong note itself, but the next note played after it. How do we respond? How do we adjust? How do we make music of our mistakes?
Today is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the first of the Hebrew month of Elul. It is good to remember – as we turn our compasses towards the work required of us in this month before the High Holy Days – that ethical teachings are rarely absolute. Our lives unfold in an unfixed tapestry of the unforeseen; our days hold encounters with others that are rich with complexity. If ethical teachings were absolute, we wouldn’t need Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We need them because it is so easy to say the wrong thing even if our intentions are good; it is so easy to lash out in defensiveness when we feel triggered. We can’t just grit our teeth and vow to always play the right notes. What we can do is practice listening and softening, pliability and curiosity – so that we are better prepared to adjust and respond once we experience the discordant notes.