...but Javert doesn't really know how to pray the nighttime prayer.
For the past couple months I have been mesmerized by the musical "Les Miserables", which I saw in a captivating performance by the local youth theater, the Peacock Players, and of course in the recent film. I've got the film soundtrack right now in my car and have been listening to it a lot.
I don't know how much this posting will mean to you if you aren't familiar with the musical. (I haven't read the book yet, by Victor Hugo, but intend to now.) It is a very spiritual story, in a way summed up by a line in one of the final numbers: "To love another person is to see the face of God." At the center is a conflict between Jean Valjean, a paroled criminal, and Inspector Javert, who represents the letter of the law.
Valjean was originally imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister and her children, and then for attempting to escape. Inspector Javert regards him as a fugitive who must be brought to justice, even as Valjean attempts to recreate himself. Valjean cannot escape from the moral responsibilities that his own acts continue to create, and each time he chooses responsibility for others and eludes Javert.
Which brings us to Maariv, the evening prayer. In a beautiful song called "Stars", Javert sings of his quest to bring Valjean to justice, including these words:
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night
You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aim
And each in your season
Returns and returns
And is always the same
These words so remind me of the words of the first prayer of the evening service, when we praise God:
Who by God's word interweaves the evening light
With wisdom opens the gates of the heavens
With understanding changes the cycles of time and rotates the seasons
And arranges the stars in their watches according to God's will
It seems to me that Javert is davvening ma'ariv, that he is meditating on the same prayer. Looking up at the order of the sky, taking comfort in the orderliness of the universe, its unchanging nature. Javert takes this even further -- as he says to Valjean at an earlier point, "A man like you can never change."
Yet his prayer is all wrong. For Javert is trapped in his narrow interpretation of "law" and has no understanding of Valjean, who breaks the terms of his parole in order to redeem his life and overcome the consequences of his mistakes, through acts of caring.
But isn't Javert's perspective exactly what the Maariv prayer says -- that the stars are always the same? That truth is found in what stays the same and never changes?
That might be what you get if you sing only those words. Javert's mistake was that he didn't continue, he didn't davven farther than the first prayer. He didn't go on to see that the very next prayer in our Siddur -- the "order" of our prayers -- is about ahava, love. It's about teaching and learning. About meditating on the Torah, probing it more and more deeply, and taking joy in it. Experiencing the Torah as God's love and theefore our path to show love to others. It's the balance between taking what is given as Torah, and helping its meaning to unfold.
Javert didn't get that at all. He went for the path of sameness and simple truths, and they failed him.
So now I can listen to his beautiful song about the starts -- knowing that by singing the next song in our order, I don't have to be stuck in Javert's understanding of the nighttime sky.