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September 12, 2012 / Rabbi Laura

Moby Dick, an Elul text

#BlogElul 25 – Forgiveness


I’ve done quite a few road trips this month with my 20-year-old Saul. We decided it would be fun to get an audio book for the drive.  Browsing around the iTunes store I came across an inexpensive unabridged audio of Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Given that whales are a particular interest to Saul (especially the orca), that it’s a classic that neither of us had read, we went for it.

I didn’t realize how funny a book it is.  My favorite line so far is, “He was a kind and comely cannibal.” (Ishmael referring to Queequeg upon getting to know him that first night in the Inn, sharing a bed.)

I didn’t realize how monotonous it would be. Saul’s comment: “He sure is long-winded.” (Referring to Melville, during one of the very long tangents on the color white and its symbolism in various cultures). Already we’ve taken 2 round trip road trips and haven’t finished the book yet…though we do take breaks from the story for some music.

I didn’t realize how appropriate Moby Dick is for this month of Elul. It’s a story about faith. It’s a story about trust. It’s a story about memory. So many of our #BlogElul themes. There is even a sermon about Jonah, given by a pastor on a Sunday morning in Nantucket before the Pequod sets sail.

And of course its a story about revenge and forgiveness.  Having not finished the book yet, I don’t want to comment on the final messages Melville leaves us with, but I do want to reflect on some questions it has raised for me about revenge, pain and forgiveness:

  • How can we forgive someone who just isn’t capable of recognizing the harm they have done to us?
  • When so focused on one task or issue,- or as Melville has taught me, when one has monomania, especially one as all-encompassing as revenge – what and who else suffers in our lives? How can we move ourselves or others beyond that monomania?
  • When we perceive we have been hurt by someone else – how often is that perception accurate? Should we look ourselves in the mirror and see how maybe we brought that pain on ourselves through misinterpretation, misunderstanding or narrow-mindedness?

These are some very BIG questions. Perhaps we can contemplate them together in the coming Days of Awe.  I am going to try to…along with finishing Moby Dick.

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