Those of you who know me know that I am a big fan of Star Wars and DC Superheroes. So it was especially fitting that my portion, Beshallach, is filled with action and suspense, and more than just about any other portion, resembles at Batman movie or Superman comic. After all, where else can you find armies of marauders chasing down innocent victims, evil villains plotting to take over the world and super special effects, with thunder and lightning and courageous feats that are downright miraculous – and of course, water.
So there was this hero who was saved from certain death as an infant, only to be sent away by his parents. He’s adopted by total strangers and grows up to be a big hero who saves his nation. Who am I talking about? Moses … or Superman? Batman was also orphaned, as was Luke Skywalker. It seems like one thing that connects all these heroes is that they become wanderers at a young age and they discover themselves in these wanderings. It’s no surprise that Superman and Batman were dreamed up by Jewish writers.
Superman’s original name was not Clark Kent, it actually sounds like a Jewish name, Kal-El, a name that includes the name of God – a Kol is a voice in Hebrew and El is God’s name, so Superman speaks in the voice of God. Moses was God’s spokesman as well.
For every hero there is an arch enemy: Our portion has two: Pharaoh, at the beginning and Amalek at the end. It was Amalek’s army that attacked the Israelites from behind in the wilderness.
The Egyptians are much like the Empire in Star Wars. At the end of Episode 6, everyone is partying with the Ewoks when the Empire was thought to be destroyed. They cheered too soon. When the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the angels were also partying, according to legend, but God warned them not to. How could they celebrate, when God’s creatures were dying?
Come to think of it, in Star Wars, Obiwan is much like God, because he instructs Luke in the ways of the Force much as God instructs Moses at the Burning Bush. God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and Obiwan says, “Got to the Dagobah System,” which is where Luke finds Yoda and and begins his Jedi training.
Yoda is much like a rabbi, and did you ever wonder if there might be a connection between the word Jedi and the word Yehudi – which is Hebrew for Jew?
Another comparison is that while the villains are very bad, they aren’t totally bad and the good guys aren’t totally good. Although Moses does is job correctly here, he later shows his frustration when he hits the rock that God had instructed him to talk to. Because of that, he was punished by not being allowed into the Promised Land. The most recent Batman movie was very dark – and Batman himself was far from perfect.
There’s one other important message that comes from the Torah and the comics and that is that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Regular people can be heroes – like the guy who according legend, was the first one to step into the Red Sea. It would only split when someone had the courage to do that, and this volunteer, named Nachshon, was an unknown before he took that fateful step. Kind of reminds me of Chewbacca, just a regular Wookie – an old one at that – about 200, who became a hero while serving in the Clone Wars.
And then there’s the important role of women, people like Miriam in the Torah, who rescued baby Moses and led the Israelites in song after crossing the sea. She was the Princess Leia (which is also a Hebrew name) of her time, the Lois Lane or Wonder Woman.
In the end, all the heroics are nice, but what matters most is to make this a better world. So the children of Israel headed right to Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments, whose goal is to promote “truth, justice and the American way.” But meanwhile, in my portion, what’s most important is not lose hope, even when things look bad. As they say in the most recent Batman movie, “The night is always darkest just before the dawn.”
One way to bring light to people in dark times is through performing mitzvot. For my mitzvah project, I did a memory walk for Alzheimer's and raised over $1,000.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jacob Gubner on Beshallach
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