Friday, February 9, 2018

Haftarat Mishpatim: How to tell a Good Witch from a Bad Witch

I'm dedicating this blog post to the fabulous Philadelphia Eagles, who won the Superbowl this past Sunday. I'm not a native Philadelphian, but my mom grew up in Trenton, and my grandfather (of blessed memory) would take us to Phillies' 
games when we were kids. So I HAVE been a Philly sports fan since forever. And it is SUCH a joy and a blessing to be a football fan in a city like this, to genuinely root for the home team, and to share in the celebrations. In the words of Dorothy Gale, in the Wizard of Oz: "There really is no place like home!!" 

Sometimes you just get lucky. And no, I'm not talking about the Philadelphia Eagles. A few weeks ago, I told you I'd be writing a series of blog posts about The Wizard of Oz, and this week I was already planning on writing about witches. Well,
sure enough, our parashah this week includes the verse: "You must not allow a sorceress to live" (Ex. 22:18). Not a bad coincidence, right? Sorceresses/Witches are only mentioned twice in the whole Torah... and one of them is this week's Torah portion. So obviously that's a good place to start, but I actually want to focus our discussion elsewhere, but we'll get back to this verse, I promise. But the whole reason I wanted to write about this topic is because there are two things that really trouble me about the witches of Oz. It is also true that the Wicked Witch of the West TERRIFIED me as a kid, but even that is not the crystal ball into which I intend to gaze. So let's talk about witches, shall we?

The first point that troubles me is a line that appears in BOTH the movie and the show. When Dorothy first meets Glinda, the [Good] Witch of the North, she tells the glittery lady with the wand that she cannot be a witch, because witches are old
and ugly. Somewhere, hiding in the bushes, the Munchkins giggle, and Glinda explains that she - in fact - is a witch, and then (here's the part that makes me cringe), with a big smile, she declares that "only bad witches are ugly." As if this weren't offensive enough by itself, it makes things much worse when you realize the movie came out in 1939, at the height of the Nazis' peddling their lies about race biology, or scientific racism. Time and again, history has proven that there are tremendously evil people who are beautiful, charismatic, and articulate, while people who are not "conventionally attractive" can be courageous, compassionate, and brilliant. So, as scared as I was of the green-faced Witch of the West, I now reject the notion that her appearance justified or explained her wickedness.

This is where my second troubling realization comes in. Did you ever wonder why, in the movie, the second Dorothy "melts" the Wicked Witch, all her cronies celebrate and rejoice? The movie never really explains it, but interestingly enough,
the show does. It turns out, the witch's minions are actually an entire race, called Winkies, and the witch enslaved them. And this - believe it or not - links us right back to our Torah portion and our Haftarah. A central tenet in Mishpatim, and indeed the entire Bible, is the equality of all people, and the importance of releasing slaves. In the Biblical world, slavery and indentured servitude were a fact of life... BUT God continued to insist - over and over and OVER again - that land owners and business people must act compassionately, and must release their slaves on a regular basis. The rabbis wanted to double down on this point, so they linked a portion of Jeremiah's prophecies that deals SPECIFICALLY with freeing slaves, to our Torah portion, so the message continues to reverberate.

Jeremiah proclaims God's message that the Israelites were freed from Egypt - from "the house of bondage" (34:13) - and THEREFORE "you must let go any fellow Hebrew who may be sold to you; when s/he has served you six years, you MUST set them free!" (14) And then Jeremiah turns on his audience, and shouts: "But now you have turned around and dishonored My Name; each of has brought back the people who you had freed, and forced them to be slaves again." (16)
And physical appearance plays NO role in this, whatsoever. We are judged on our actions and the way in which we manifest kindness and compassion in the world. When Exodus tells us not to let a sorceress live, I picture a flame that needs oxygen to keep burning. If we allow its poisonous behavior to spread, the fire burns stronger and consumes everything. And that is EVERYONE'S responsibility. Society allows evil to grow and thrive, or it speaks out and refuses to accept injustice. Physical appearance is a distraction, a red herring. However, beauty IS important. But it's the beauty of our souls and the warmth and acceptance that we give to another. Is there anything more beautiful than that, in this land or any other?

Photos in this blog post:
1. Benjamin, Jeremy, and Nomi Gerber - with two Philly Phanatic puppets to show our Philly "cred," from back in the day!
2. Caroline and me, showing our Eagles pride!! E.A.G.L.E.S - Eagles!!!
3. CC image courtesy of Ali on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of JasonAQuest on Wikimedia Commons
5. CC image courtesy of MB298 on Wikimedia Commons
6. CC image from the ongoing Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, courtesy of Carlodar.97 on Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. Once again a great message! I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog each week. Thank you for the inspiring words! #ourrabbirocks #jitterbugsofoz


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