Friday, February 16, 2018

Haftarat Terumah: Pay No Attention to That God Behind the Curtain!

This week, I'm continuing my series of posts on the Wizard of Oz. And, in fact, this Saturday, February 17th, is our Opening Night! If you're around, and would like to see a terrific show, we're doing four performances, and you can find more info on our website, On with the show!! (Or post...)

In our synagogue production, I play the Wizard of Oz himself, so I've had a lot of time to think about this character. I'm really enjoying playing him, but it's also true that the Wizard - as well as his alter ego back in Kansas, Professor Marvel - is a
charlatan. He's a snake-oil salesman. He's a great talker, but he's a fraud. A "humbug," as they say in the show, when the curtain is pulled back. He doesn't have any magical powers at all! He can't provide a heart, a brain, or courage, and he certainly can't magically send Dorothy back to Kansas. In the show (and the movie), the Wizard plans to take Dorothy home in a balloon, but by accident he flies away without her. I often wonder, if he HAD gotten Dorothy into that basket... where would he have taken her? He had no idea how to get from Oz back to Kansas! What was the plan??? He's actually LUCKY it failed! But here's the interesting thing: If he's a humbug with no real powers at all, how come everyone gets what they wanted in the end?

To me, the links between the messages of Oz and our own relationship with one another, the world, and religion are unmistakable. And the Wizard is perhaps one of the most interesting characters of all. We might ask ourselves, how does religion
"work"? When are our prayers "successful"? It's not magic or hocus pocus, it's about believing in something, or allowing religion and prayers to give you strength, courage, hope, and resolve. Another essential part is community, both in our own lives and in Oz. But it's interesting though, isn't it? We are told the Wizard will MAGICALLY grant them all their wishes... then he's proven to be a sham... but then somehow he manages to show them all they had the powers in themselves all along. The Scarecrow WAS smart; the Tinman compassionate and kind; the Lion brave. Given my assertion above, I even wonder if he never had any intention of bringing Dorothy onto that balloon, but knew that if he removed himself, she would finally realize (with Glinda's help) that she could get herself home all along.

This week, our Torah portion AND our Haftarah are obsessed with buildings. Terumah tells us about all the work Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites put into creating a Tabernacle in the desert, where they could experience God. And the Haftarah parallels this story by recounting how King Solomon built the Temple in
Jerusalem. But in some ways, both stories are actually a little absurd! The Israelites just experienced God's power in Egypt, then at the Sea, then through manna, quail, and water pouring out of rocks. God is everywhere; so why the heck are they bending over backwards to build a structure in which to "confine" God??? And King Solomon essentially turns his own people into slaves, to build giant monuments to himself and to God. So much so, that when his son takes over the thrown, the people rebel against him for suggesting he might continue the punishing behaviors of his father. We don't NEED these absurd structures. At their core, they are all smoke, mirrors, and giant "pretend" heads booming at us. THAT is not where the real power lay. And, in fact, God tells us as much in our Torah reading!

One of the most famous lines of our parashah is "v'Asu Lee Mikdash, v'Shachanti b'Tocham." "Let them build for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in them" (Ex. 25:8) And to really emphasize the importance of this verse, it is actually echoed in our
Haftarah! The very last verse says, "v'Shachanti b'Toch B'nai Yisrael," "I will dwell within the Children of Israel" (I Kings, 6:13). The verse is intentionally grammatically incorrect. It COULD have said, "build Me a building... and I will dwell IN IT," but it doesn't say that. The building isn't actually the central thing! It's just bricks and mortar. When you dedicate yourselves to this enterprise, then God will dwell in you. The journey of getting to Oz was the important part, not actually arriving! The journey, the self-realization, the forming of bonds and trusting one another, THAT is what led to each character getting what s/he wanted. When Oz says "pay no attention to the guy behind the curtain," it's because he's inconsequential. But you know what, so is the giant, green, talking head. The magic is inside all of us, if we do the hard work of building it up, and then taking the time to see it.

The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken!!

Photos in this blog post from our Ohev production of The Wizard of Oz.
1) The Lion, the Tinman, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow
2) Rehearsing Munchkinland
3) Put 'em up! Put 'em up!!
4) Flying monkeys attack!!

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