Friday, January 26, 2018

Haftarat B'Shallach: I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore...

I wasn't going to write about it this week. I was going to start a series of blog posts/Divrei Torah NEXT week, when we entered February. But I had no choice.
The signs were everywhere, and I simply couldn't ignore them. Of course, there are non-believers out there. My colleague and friend, Rabbi Kelilah Miller, poo-pooed me and said, "When you're wearing green-colored glasses, anything will jump out at you!" Well, maybe she's right. When I opened up the Chumash to write about this week's Haftarah, I had a totally different idea in mind. But the commentary on the Song of Deborah caught me totally by surprise. And then one after the other, I saw clues and hints that were unmistakable. So here we go, folks: We're off to see the Wizard!

As you may (or may not) know, Ohev Shalom is putting on a production of the "Wizard of Oz" in a few weeks (2/17, 18, 24, and 25), and both my daughter and I are performing in it. Four years ago, when we put on "Fiddler on the Roof," I wrote a series of blog posts that explored several concepts underlying that story. And now, once again, I plan to do the same. So far, the topics I intend to explore include:

- Where do you go for Courage, a Brain, and a Heart?
- Pay no attention to that God behind the curtain!
- How to tell a Good Witch from a Bad Witch
- What Dorothy learned in the end... and why it's all wrong

If anyone would like to discuss other related topics, please let me know. Perhaps we can keep this yellow brick road going just a little bit longer... But for now, let's talk about how a 3,200-year old Biblical text was clearly telling me I HAD TO talk about the Wizard of Oz!

Some brief background: Our Torah portion includes the Song of the Sea, which Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites sang to celebrate their freedom from the
Egyptians on the banks of the Sea of Reeds. To parallel this "song," the Haftarah presents a laudatory poem, attributed to an ancient judge, named Deborah, after a great military victory. I was all set to write about one idea, when a rabbinic commentary on the Song of Deborah stopped me in my tracks. One repetitive motif in the song, is the constant use of a Hebrew word, "Az," meaning "then." But the commentary points out that the word evokes a military term, namely "Oz." Uh, what? And by the way, the word "Oz" happens to mean "courage," which is pretty Wizard-relevant too, isn't it?

Sure enough, as I continued reading the Haftarah with my new "green-colored
glasses," I noticed a king named "Jabin," from the Hebrew word "Yaveen," meaning "to understand"; which, of course, is what the Scarecrow seeks! In Judges 5:16, Deborah proclaims that the Tribe of Reuben were "great searchers of the heart," or perhaps a Tinman might read it as "searching FOR a heart"! And then, wouldn't you know it, verse 21 declares: "March on, my soul, with courage!" I couldn't find any references to wizards or witches, but I hope you'll agree that the parallels are there nonetheless.

If nothing else, I think this is a good reminder that EVERYTHING can be found in
the texts of our tradition. It - the text - doesn't change, but we do. Every year, we are different, and our Scriptures are always ready to meet us where we are, and connect to what's going on in our lives. You've just got to open your eyes, click your heels together, and what may have seemed black-and-white before may all of a sudden be BURSTING with color!

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Nabokov on Wikimedia Commons
2. Image of a Munchkin, waiting to make her theatrical debut! :-)
3. Image of a Wizard costume, slowly but surely coming together...
4. CC image courtesy of Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca on Wikimedia Commons
5. Image of the Tinman's Heart, from the movie, "The Wizard of Oz
6. CC image courtesy of dbking on Wikimedia Commons

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