A song has been in my head all week. Actually one refrain from the song has been playing in a loop. “Say something, talk to him, Say something, anything” it’s from a song in the musical Fun Home. I had the privilege to see this musical when I was in NYC just over a week ago. A daughter wanting to communicate with her father about something important sings these lyrics. The forty-something year old Alison has been revisiting memories of her father to try to explain why the beginning of her life as a lesbian coincided with her gay father’s suicide. In this poignant scene, older Alison is remembering riding with her father in the car trying to reach him. We see them sitting together. He saying some things about himself, but not directly responding to her. She is trying to find the words to connect with him.
The scene touches upon something that seems common to me in our human experience the moments when words seem to fail us, or where the disconnect between people seems to require more than language itself can provide.
I brought this experience with me into reading the section of this week’s Torah portion where God tells Moses and Aaron to talk to a stone and tell it to deliver water. Compared with all the speaking for God that Moses has been doing for almost 40 years, compared to all the things Moses had heard from God or the Israelites for the same amount of time, this seems like a seemingly simple task. Just say, “Rock, please bring us water.”
Why when faced with what might be the simplest task of his 40-year career as a prophet and leader, does Moses seem to fail?
Moses says instead, “Listen up you rebels shall we get water for you from this rock?“ and then hits the rock with his rod. Instead of a simple, easygoing approach, Moses sounds angry and forceful.
God says to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not have emunah, trust and faith, in me…you will not bring this congregation into the land that I give them.” All the rabbinic commentators interpret this statement as the delivery of a punishment to Moses for the hitting of the rock instead of talking to it. One can’t help but wonder why after all these years of leadership, after everything that Moses has done, does this one infraction merit such punishment.
When do we lose trust that our words, that speech, that just saying what we want, or need can make an impact?
When do we bring emotion and a forcefulness into our communication that obscures our main message?
I wonder if it might be God’s intention to remind us that sometimes simple words are all we need. Perhaps this story is to tell us that even when you feel that you are speaking to a rock, a stone, something that seems inanimate and impossible to change, even when something appears to be so concrete, that trust and faith in yourself and your message may still be a better tool that physical strength or verbal aggression.
Sometimes the additional force and fluster diminish the power of speaking simply from the core of our being. Sometimes aggressive language turns the listeners against the speaker instead of honestly conveying the intended meaning.
In a world with a lot of words, and lots of bluster, with emotion coloring our communications be them public, political, private or familial, we can learn from Moses’ mistake. We can remember that having emunah, trust and faith in others, means being able to speak directly from one heart to another.
Maybe instead of energetically trying to make the rocks in front of us listen, we can connect from within, and know that we will be heard.
Maybe the way to bridge the disconnect that Alison feels with her father is to “Say something” simple and heartfelt.