While reading the film reviews of the last several years, I keep asking myself why the most successful movies all seem to be fantasies of disaster or conquests by aliens, either from Middle Earth or other galaxies. Here is one comment from the Washington Post regarding these movies:
There’s no denying that “The Green Knight” is strange. This is a movie full of naked giantesses and talking foxes, beautiful women who insist their heads have gone missing from their bodies, and, oh yes, a massive, axe-wielding combatant made of animated wood and vines. Those arresting images and enigmatic sequences are part of why “The Green Knight” is wonderful. It’s a film that will invite multiple, careful viewings. *1
I also recall my course with my Shiviti Yeshiva teacher, Yehudis Golshevsky *2, on “Aggadata” in the Talmud. Aggadata presents as a fantastical narrative; the closest word in English is “allegory.” Below is an example of the genre. *3
Struggling with these stories with my class was weird and wonderful. Although these tales are difficult to digest, they are not escapist entertainment. Countless Rabbis have written books of commentaries explaining what these tall tales have to teach us.
In the first session of his Zoom course, The Big Questions About Judaism *4, Prof. Hazony laments that in our present intellectual climate, the Hebrew Bible is too often disparaged as antiquated and even perhaps geared to children and the unsophisticated. However, many ancient and contemporary scholars have found the Torah a marvellous source of ideas on all aspects of human striving.
Anyone who has attended a Jewish mainstream synagogue knows that a significant portion of any service is the ceremony of taking the Torah out of the ark, unscrolling it, and chanting the Torah portion – the Parsha – for that week in the original Hebrew.
Over the year, the complete Torah is recited every year. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks *5 discusses the value of reading and rereading the Torah in his essay on Parsha Ki Tavo,
The great questions – “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “what is our task” – are best answered by telling a story. This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is; not a theological treatise, or a metaphysical system, but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about ‘truth as system’ than about ‘truth as story.
We are fortunate in our time to have ready access to Torah texts, commentaries, brilliant teachers, movies, television, and the internet, all at the touch of the finger. So how does one choose from this embarrassment of riches?
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!” Find the teacher who speaks to you. Start with a favourite teacher of Torah wherever you are. I found mine when I visited Yeshivat Simhat Shlomo*6 in Nachlaot, Jerusalem and sat in a class with Yehudis Golshevsky.
Every moment of your life is precious. The only unrenewable resource is your time on this earth. So use it wisely, even when seeking entertainment.
- Washington Post, Opinion: Go Ahead Take a Chance, See a weird Looking Movie Like The Green Knight or Pig
- Shiviti Yeshiva: An international online intermediate and advanced Torah learning community for women centred in Jerusalem, Israel
- The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah with the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook Introduction, P.9
- Prof. Yoram Hazony, The Really Big Questions About Judaism
- Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Ki Tavo, Lessons in leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible, P. 276 -278
- Yeshivat Simhat Shlomo, Torah from the Heart to the Heart