Recently we’ve enjoyed reading some of Mo Willems’ “Piggie and Gerald” series of beginner books. Here’s another gem from that series that has far more depth and insight into human character than the silly children’s book it appears to be.
Here’s the basic plot: Piggie wants Gerald (her elephant friend) to listen to her trumpet playing. It is quickly evident that she has no trumpet playing skills and the sounds she makes are the furthest thing from music. Gerald wants to be polite and tries to evade his impressions, which Piggie insists on hearing, and yet remain honest and true to his friend. She keeps pressing him for his impressions of her trumpet playing, and he can’t help but be honest so he tells her that it was nice and all, and has some good qualities, but it wasn’t music.
Piggie responds that she wasn’t even trying to play music! She was trying to speak elephant! She wanted to sound like Gerald! (elephants do make trumpeting-type sounds) This melts Gerald’s heart and he helps her improve her elephant “accent” on the trumpet…
It is a beautiful story. Sometimes we judge people or evaluate their words or actions based on the words or actions themselves, never realizing that what they are really trying to do is to connect with us. It’s much more (and not about) the words or actions but about us!
Same is true of our prayers and the same is true of our Simchat Torah dancing. This isn’t about dance moves or how well we sing or whether we know the tunes. This is all about expressing our connection, being excited about the connection, and however we pronounce the words or no matter how we dance, it’s not about that. It’s about the connection underneath that we’re eager to express.
There’s a related Chassidic story about an illiterate farm-hand, a boy who grew up on a farm and never learned to read, who attended the holy Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue on Yom Kippur. You can see the more complete story as told by the Previous Rebbe here at this link, but the gist of it is that the atmosphere in the synagogue was intense, everyone immersed in prayer, and this young boy also wanted to express himself, but just didn’t have the words. So he cried out the rooster’s call, Cockadoodledoo! to the chagrin and dismay of all the other worshippers, aside for the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov said that this heartfelt sound broke through all the heavens and ensured a good year for all!
It’s not always about how well we say it, or how well we do it, but what we’re trying to do with it, what we mean with it. Piggie wasn’t trying to make music with that trumpet, she was expressing her closeness with and appreciation for Gerald!