A few years ago my son, Moishe, and I, went to see Hamlet. The theater was out of doors in a hilly, tree filled, part of Wisconsin . The weather was crisp, the trees were just beginning to wear their fall colors, the sky was blue, and the play was magnificent. We went because Moishe and I read Hamlet together, and I promised Moishe that when we had the chance we would see the play.
One of the things I love about Shakespeare is how he puts the deepest thoughts into the mouths of the most unlikely characters. But there was a monologue from the mouth of Claudius, the evil king and uncle of Hamlet, that truly stunned us; especially as it was in the midst of the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, season:
â€œâ€¦My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but ’tis not so above;
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell’d,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? what rests?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.
â€¦Rising] My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene III)â€
If only Jews hadnâ€™t already been expelled from England during Shakespeareâ€™s age, he might have learned what we all rely on at this time of year; that you only have to take the first step towards change, and then G-dâ€™s help kicks in.