You were right. I was wrong

Will we ever get to savor these words?  Will a person who sees things so differently ever come around to our way of thinking?

In this week’s portion of Torah, Pharaoh confesses amidst the seventh plague’s hail, “Your God is righteous, while me and my people are wicked” (Ex. 9:27).  One rabbinic interpretation even has Pharaoh going further, “we have deserved each and every one of the plagues” (Targum Yonatan).  Yet as soon as the hail stops, Pharaoh recoils and refuses to let the people go.

Even when the longed-for concession is spoken it doesn’t last.  The King of Egypt’s words don’t run deep.  His pronouncement is transactional  Purely conditional.

This doesn’t mean we can never hear such words expressed to us with sincerity.  We can and do receive genuine apologies.  “I am truly sorry.  I did not realize back then how mistaken I was, how insensitive I was to your needs and feelings.”

Indeed we are much more likely to hear “You were right. I was wrong” in repairing a fractured friendship than from those holding opposing ideological views.  This is because changing our political hearts and minds feels too emotionally expensive.  Its surcharges may include disloyalty or betrayal.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is the sense that others are trying. When someone is curious.  Truly and not transactionally.  When someone is sincerely interested in learning something new about our perspective, we appreciate the effort.   When their effort is exerting – even breaking a sweat – struggling to grasp an element of our belief system, we get the message that they care.

More convincing are heartfelt efforts at empathy than calculated words spoken by a hardening heart.  May our willing hearts seek ways to demonstrate such efforts in ways that advance heart-soothing healing.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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