Wednesday, April 22, 2015
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Noah Weinberg on Shmini
As some of you may know, I love superheroes. I have for a long time.
It was way back in 2013 when I saw my first superhero movie. It was “The Avengers.” I was surfing Netflix for appropriate movies – I was so young at the time – and I stumbled on “The Avengers.” I went nuts.
I loved it – so much I went on to see maybe twenty movies over the next several months (while still fitting in my homework – which took a superhuman effort if there ever was one). By now I’ve seen every Marvel and DC movie that’s been made – at least 20 in all.
For those who might be interested, my top five would include, at number 5, “Captain America, the Winter Soldier.” At number four, “Iron Man.” Coming in third, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Number two: “The Avengers.” And at number one, what else could I pick but, of course, you guessed it…. “The Dark Knight.”
What is it about these movies that I love? For one thing, there’s the character building. Each main character is well developed and unique, both the heroes and the villains. Even with the bad movies (like the worst superhero movie ever – “Batman and Robin,”) there are still good storylines.
There are recurring patterns and themes exploring how heroes overcome tragedy in their lives. Batman could never have become Batman if his parents hadn’t been murdered. He turned that tragedy into a good thing. So did the Green Lantern, after his parents died in a place crash, Superman when his planet blew up, Spiderman after his uncle and parents were killed, and Thor, whose mom was murdered. It might seem like it’s a cliché, since it happens so often, but in each case the hero responds a little differently.
In my portion of Shmini, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu also die tragically, by a flash fire when they brought an unauthorized sacrifice without informing their father. In this case they lacked some of the qualities that are needed to become a superhero like their uncle Moses.
The commentators give several reasons why that was the case.
For one thing, there was a lack of faith – in God or themselves. Superheroes are able to triumph because they believe in themselves and in the rightness of what they are doing.
Nadav and Avihu also put themselves before others, the exact opposite of what a true hero would do. Unlike them, Iron man, who is cocky and it does get him into trouble, is able to learn from his mistakes. Batman also overcomes his inflated ego through training from martial arts mentor, Ra's al Ghul, who then turns out to be a villain who tries to kill him.
Yes I know it’s complicated. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Then there’s the matter of dress, a subject that is near and dear to me. According to the commentators, Nadav and Avihu disrespected their surroundings by entering the sanctuary casually dressed. I can relate to the need to dress well! (Put on little cape?) True superheroes understand the need to wear color coordinated capes and masks and they always come dressed to kill!
And finally, patience. One critic of Nadav and Avihu explains that they were too anxious to take over leadership from their elders. For a superhero, there is no need to rush to become a leader. When the right moment arrives to take charge, you’ll be ready. Superman had to wait for years before that moment arrived. With Thor, the hammer chose him. You just have to be ready to respond the needs of the moment.
In some ways, right now is my moment. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a lot like becoming a superhero. The world needs a lot of help. Our task as Jews is to help to repair it – we call that tikkun olam. It’s no surprise that so many of these superheroes were created by Jews.
I know that although I’m now a bar mitzvah, it may be years before I really know what my place is in the bigger picture. But when that time comes, I hope to be ready.
For my mitzvah project, I’ve been volunteering at Friendship Circle. I know that for the special needs students that I work with, I can be a hero to them.