You were right. I was wrong

Some day our adversaries will see the light. One day they will concede, “You were right.  I have been wrong all along.” Of course such delicious concessions never materialize.  Almost never. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, Pharaoh confesses amidst the seventh plague’s hail, “This time I have sinned!  Your God is righteous, while me and my people are wicked” (Ex. 9:27).  One rendering even has Pharaoh going further, “we have deserved each and every one of the plagues” (Targum Yonatan).  Yet as soon as Moses prays to God to make the hail cease, Pharaoh reverts back to his sinful ways, refusing to let the people go.  Even when the longed for concession is spoken, it vaporizes as quickly as a snapchat image. 

The reason why Pharaoh’s concession is so ephemeral is that it appears to be in-genuine.  Before Moses departs to pray that God stop the plague he says to Pharaoh, “I realize that you and your following don’t yet genuinely revere God”(Ex. 9:30). The King of Egypt’s words don’t run deep.  His pronouncement is transactional.

Does this mean that we can never ever hear what we may objectively deserve to hear?  Words like, “I am truly sorry.  I did not realize back then how wrong I was, how insensitive I was to your needs and feelings.”  We can and should hope to hear them.  Interpersonally, reconciliation is possible and should be probable.  Yet with ideology and beliefs such reconciliation seems more improbable.  Ironically we may have a better chance of hearing “You were right.  I was wrong” in repairing a fractured friendship than we might from those holding opposing views on how to make America a more perfect union or how to uproot violence and sow hope between Israel and her neighbors.

Yet perhaps rather than expecting to hear, “You were right, I was wrong”, we can appreciate someone who is invested in trying to identify with our perspective.  When she or he is sincerely trying – even breaking a sweat – struggling to grasp our belief system, we get the message that she or he cares.   More convincing are heartfelt efforts at empathy than calculated words spoken by a hardening heart. 

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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