|Dreamworks Animation SKG|
Just as “Shrek” has encouraged multi-generational enjoyment at the movie theater, the “Harry Potter” book series has fostered multi-generational literary enjoyment and commitment to reading. Author J.K. Rowling has created books that appeal to very young children as well as sophisticated adults. Parents have found as much pleasure in these tales of wizards and sorcerers as their kids. And the bond that is created when parent and child can discuss literature together is priceless.
The three “Shrek” movies and the “Harry Potter” novels share a strong connection in several important ways to this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Balak. The most striking connection between the animation and the parashah, of course, is the talking donkey in the Torah narrative. The link between “Harry Potter” and the parashah is in the magic, spells, curses, and sorcery.
When Balak, the King of Moab, saw the Israelite victory over the Amorites, he was alarmed. He commissioned Balaam, the world’s most powerful wizard, to put a curse on the Israelites for Balak to drive them out of the land. God tried to dissuade Balaam from cursing the Israelites, a people blessed from the time of the Patriarchs, whose divine blessing cannot be reversed. Balaam refused, but was later asked to reconsider his mission. God allows him to proceed so long as he does what God tells him.
Riding his donkey, Balaam comes upon an angel of God but does not want to stop. The donkey thinks otherwise and is beaten for trying to break for God’s messenger, whereupon God opens the donkey’s mouth for the donkey to verbally berate Balaam. Balaam then offers three oracles of blessing to the Israelites, including the well-known blessing, “How fair are your tents O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel.”
There is much to be learned from this narrative. Most notably is the power of God to ensure that the Israelite nation remains blessed no matter how badly someone wants to curse them. What is remarkable about the story, however, is that appeal it has to both young and old. The basic story of a magician riding a talking donkey who is hired to curse a people seems to be taken right from a fairy tale. However, the deeper concept (the subtext) of the story is a powerful theological statement about the omnipotence of God and the eternally blessed nature of the people Israel.
In the brilliance of the Torah, the narrative captivates diverse generations just as the “Shrek” movies and the “Harry Potter” series do. There is truly appeal for everyone. This is a lesson for us. We need to make Torah study in particular and Judaism in general attractive to young and old alike. We do this with our Passover seders each year and we should strive to do it year round.
There are “Shivim Panim LeTorah” (seventy faces of the Torah) meaning that the Torah can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. This also means that there are enough ways to make the Torah accessible and captivating to all ages. Some stories of the Torah might already be written as exciting narratives for young people as well as adults, such as the Flood, the tales of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the Exodus. Some, like the Balak narrative, might even have all the elements of a fantasy. For those sections of the Torah that do not automatically present themselves as intriguing for young people, it is up to the adults to translate the text into exciting drama. Through midrash, many texts have already come to life for our youth.
If you haven’t already seen the Shrek movies, go see them. And even if you’ve seen them, I encourage you to see them again with your children and/or grandchildren so that we may all seek out the multi-generational appeal of Talmud Torah. When the different generations spend time being entertained and learning together, in the words of our Torah, our people and dwellings will truly be blessed.
Elaine Dickinson: Would you like something to read?
Hanging Lady: Do you have anything light?
Elaine Dickinson: How about this leaflet, “Famous Jewish Sports Legends?”
Okay, so maybe there aren’t many Jewish sports legends, but this week has been a great one for professional Jewish athletes with Italian roots.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that “Balotelli dedicated the two goals he scored in Italy’s 2-1 semifinals victory over Germany on June 28 to his foster mother, Silvia, who raised him in northern Italy. Newspapers and websites ran a dramatic photo of Balotelli tearfully embracing his mother after the match.”
Moked, the website of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called the Balotelli’s emotional embrace with his mother “an emotion for all Italians and a special emotion for Italian Jews.”
Balotelli revealed the fact that his adoptive mother was Jewish in early June, when like other teams, the Italian national squad visited Auschwitz ahead of the start of the games.
Also, this week came the revelation that Jewish Italian tennis player Camila Giorgi will be moving to Israel after Wimbledon. Giorgi has reached the second week of Wimbledon competition. She was born to Italian parents of Argentinian descent and currently lives in France. The European Jewish Press reports that the Israeli Tennis Association (ITA) will offer Giorgi a $100,000 grant in return for a 30% cut of her prize money over the next few years.
I certainly hope Italy keeps churning out impressive Jewish athletes in the years to come. In the mean time I’ll be cheering for Balotelli in soccer competition and following Giorgi’s international tennis success. Buona fortuna!
Watching Edon Pinchot on “America’s Got Talent” tonight I found myself praying. Not praying that the adorable 14-year-old Jewish boy wearing a kippah would win. I was praying that Howie Mandel and Howard Stern wouldn’t make any stupid jokes.
I guess the other Jewish judge named Howard couldn’t resist. Howie Mandel praised Edon and then asked him if he got a standing ovation at his bar mitzvah too. Not a horrible remark. But then Howie Mandel went the silly pun route and actually said to the young boy, “I said it before and I’ll say it again: From one to another, Jew are terrific!”
Howard Stern came off looking much better by first suggesting he doesn’t use a fog machine and then explaining how impressed he was with Edon’s performance. After an earlier performance Howard Stern criticized Edon for having a whiny voice, but this time around he said the young boy is humble and nice and that “America’s going to fall in love with you.”
Here’s Edon performing on “American’s Got Talent” tonight:
And here’s Edon Pinchot (no relation to Bronson Pinchot — Balki Bartoukomos of “Perfect Strangers”) performing on “American’s Got Talent: Vegas Week”: