Who do you serve? Guilt, redemption and vodka

It was like an episode of Star Trek. I even had a beard. Okay, half of a beard. Growing facial hair isn’t really my forte. All the same, I felt like the morning mirror was showing me a different person. An unpleasant person. A one-night visit to my alma mater, my old stomping grounds, had turned me into the kind of person I had spent 4 years avoiding. Cocky, rude, crude, lewd, and most of all, drunk.

So after a few days of malaise, I called up some friends. They accepted my apologies. That’s what friends are supposed to do, right?

“Just try not to do it again, okay?”

I called some of the people that, if I remembered the night correctly, I had treated badly. They also forgave me. Called it a momentary lapse in character.

“Just don’t do it again, okay?”

Then I called my Rabbi. He said he was actually kind of proud of me in a weird way. He said that self-reflection is a sign of maturity, and that the shame I felt was a message from God. Telling me what I already knew. I didn’t feel very mature, but I’ll take the hint.

“Just try not to do it again, okay?”

It’s the middle of April, which means soon it will be Passover. And while this isn’t the big ol’ Day of Atonement, certain moments in the seder have given me pause to reflect. There must be something in the story that gives us a reason to feel shame. After all, 8 days of matzah has to be punishment for something, right?

It’s really in the story. As a writer I imagine these characters and I try and put myself in their shoes. And I wonder about their lives and their thoughts and their misgivings.

Was Moses seminal in the proud Jewish tradition of sessions with a shrink? Did he ever feel ashamed of his actions before he discovered his true identity? The revelation of his ancestry must have shocked him to the core. How did he reconcile his behavior as an Egyptian Prince, with all the brutality implied? Did Moshe Avinu ever make amends for mistreating his brothers? Even more, did he dwell on so deeply hurting the man he called brother?

Speaking of whom, what about the Pharoah? Did he ever understand the moral implications of owning and brutalizing slaves? Did he ever understand why Moses had to do what he did?

These were human men playing roles in a political battle of wills. Surely they had the humanity to know that, righteous or wicked, conflicts like this can take a heavy emotional toll.

We all make mistakes. We all hurt people. If you think you haven’t, you’re not paying enough attention, or you have never actually interacted with anyone.

We hurt people out of spite, out of malice, out of our own insecurities, but we also hurt them unintentionally. Out of ignorance, or out of the sincere belief that our path is worth hurting others.

Yet as sad as this fact is, there is the simple truth in redemption. We can confess, we can confront ourselves in honesty and sincerity and understanding. We can reckon with how and why we have done what we do, and we can decide if it was worth it. We can decide if our actions define our values or if our values define our actions. And we can ask forgiveness, make amends and reconcile.

All it takes is an ounce of humanity and humility, and a willingness to accept it.

Bob Dylan once sang that “You gotta serve somebody.” Some of us serve our gods. Some of us make a god to serve. Some of us serve ourselves. But we all gotta serve somebody.

So when I look at myself in the mirror, and I don’t like what I see, I ask who I was serving. I don’t often like that answer. But when I ask forgiveness, I know who I’m serving. When I call my Rabbi to talk through the reasons for my mistakes, I know who I’m serving. And when I shave off my half-grown patchy beard and see myself again, and I start to like what I see, I know I’m serving the right god.

Still. “Just don’t do it again. Putz.”

About the Author
Zack Babins is a Parliamentary Intern in the House of Commons in Ottawa. He graduated from the University of Guelph, where he was a leader in campus Jewish organizations Hillel and Alpha Epsilon Pi. All views are, of course, his own. He doesn't expect many will share them.
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