Monday, November 6, 2017
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Julia Marrinan on Lech Lecha
Those of you who know me know that I love Broadway shows. When I started to read through my portion, about the many adventures of Abraham, it occurred to me that the tests he faced were very similar to the tests of characters in my favorite musicals.
According to commentators, Abraham went through ten trials. Here is the list that Rambam created:
1) Abraham’s exile from his family and homeland.
2) The famine in Canaan that sent him to Egypt.
3) The corruption in Egypt that resulted in the kidnapping of Sarah.
4) The war with the four kings.
5) His marriage to Hagar in order to have a child.
6) His circumcision
7) Sarah was kidnapped again, this time by Avimelech
8) Driving away Hagar after she had given birth.
9) Abandoning his son Ishmael.
10) The binding of his other son, Isaac on the altar.
So let me explain how some of these trials relate to Broadway shows.
According to the Midrash, Abraham was exiled from his homeland in order to hide from King Nimrod, who wanted to kill him. This reminds me of Simba in “The Lion King,” who had to run away from his evil uncle Scar and his homeland in order to stay alive. While in exile, Abraham had to learn two things:
1) how to survive, much as Simba does, by learning how not to be burdened by the past, or as Timon and Pumbaa would say, “Hakuna Matata.” And...
2) he needed to gain the courage to return home.
Another trial was to learn how and when to sacrifice.
When Abraham and Sarah went down to Egypt and he almost had to give up Sarah to Pharaoh, much like in “Hamilton,” when Angelica gives up Alexander to her sister.
Later on, Abraham also was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, in the same way that Hamilton was willing to see his son Philip die in a dual for the father’s honor.
Another trial for Abraham was when he married Hagar in order to have a son with her, and then he left her. He took advantage of her and used her, similar to how Jafar used Aladdin to get the lamp in the musical “Aladdin.”
Abraham also learns the importance of alliances in his war with the four kings. In the musical, “Wicked,” Glinda and Elphaba both had to learn to make friends with the right people. In the beginning, for Glinda it was the Wizard and for Elphaba it was the flying monkeys. But in the end, they realized that the best alliance they had was with each other.
Another test for Abraham was his circumcision, which he did himself, an act that demonstrated his loyalty to God.
In the musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan Hansen fell from a tree to see if anyone would notice – but no one did, and all he got from it was a broken arm. But the difference is, while they both caused themselves pain because they thought they needed to, Abraham did it for a higher purpose, while Evan Hansen did it for himself.
This wasn’t exactly a test, but after the circumcision, God paid a visit to Abraham, much like we visit people who are sick. It’s an important mitzvah. The Talmud states that when you pay a visit to someone who is in pain, it reduces the pain by 1/60th. Mary Poppins had another solution: a spoonful of sugar.
Although it isn’t officially counted as a test, Abraham pleaded with God not to harm the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, so that goof people would not be hurt for sake of the bad.
In the musical “Into the Woods,” the Giant chases Jack down the beanstalk without regard to the safety of the other people on the ground. And back to “Hamilton,” King George threatens to kill his subjects’ friends and family, “to remind them of his love.” Even though they were innocent.
Finally, Abraham’s last trial was to bind Isaac. Even though he was following what he thought were God’s orders, he learned that sometimes blind obedience is not the best thing.
The same thing happens in “Anastasia,” where a Russian official is ordered to kill Anya, who claims to be the princess Anastasia. In the end he realizes that killing her would be wrong, so he reports back that she was never Anastasia. With Abraham, in the end, God makes it clear that he never wanted Isaac to be killed.
So what’s the most important lesson to learn from all this? The Torah is the inspiration for all Broadway shows and it’s important to take your kids to lots of them!
For my mitzvah project “Read to Grow,” I collected over 500 books to distribute to kids who can’t afford them. They will be sent to hospitals and other places to cheer up the kids there, just like a spoonful of sugar!