Paul Simon’s farewell tour got me inspired. It was a beautiful evening, and since his music – and most notably his 1986 album ‘Graceland’ – forms a a significant part of my life’s ‘soundtrack’, a memorable and nostalgic one as well. Somewhere in the middle of his set, Simon shared some reminiscences about his hit song ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. It’s been covered dozens of times, most powerfully by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson. But for me, it’s the original Simon and Garfunkel version that is most resonant. It’s been running through my head all week.
We live in a time of truly troubled waters. The Rio Grande, marking the border between Mexico and the United States, is only the most obvious example. And the scenes from that border – of migrant families sleeping on a bridge over the Rio Grande’s troubled waters, and of crying children being separated from their parents upon crossing into the United States – have broken our hearts and outraged and infuriated us. Can it really be the policy of this country of immigrants to so badly mistreat those seeking asylum here? Can it really be the policy of our democracy to so demean people who desire nothing more than a better life for themselves and their children?
Parashat Hukkat revolves around the well known story of Moses hitting the rock in order to provide water for the people of Israel. The place where that event occurs is Mei merivah – Waters of Contention. The people have quarreled with Moses (and with God) and so the water that quenches their thirst is troubled in the extreme. That place, according to the Torah, is simultaneously the spot where Moses (and Aaron) failed to sanctify the Divine Name AND the locale where God is sanctified.
12But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” 13Those are the Waters of Meribah—meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord—through which He affirmed His sanctity.
Places of outrage and the desecration of God’s name are also, perhaps of necessity, places where God’s name can be sanctified. True for the Wilderness of Zin; true as well for the Rio Grande. Troubled waters stand on one side of that equation. Bridges stand on the other. It’s time – now, right now – to build bridges of compassion, of understanding, of welcome. The troubled waters won’t disappear anytime soon. They can, however, be transcended. That’s our work.
Enjoy the music –