Friday, September 25, 2009

REPOST: Harry's Good Heart and Yom Kippur

Harry's good heart: Not just light, but happiness

Hi everyone! I only have a few minutes to write, but wanted to pass on a quick thought today, Erev Yom Kippur, the day that Yom Kippur starts.

(See here , here , and here and here for other Harry Potter related thoughts on Yom Kippur.)

We read repeatedly that Dumbeldore praises Harry for having a uniquely pure heart. This pure heart enables him to get the socerers stone, and to survive being posessed while Voldemort can't continue to posess him, and ultimately helps him defeat Voldemort at the end of the series.

In traditional Yom Kippur prayerbooks, before Kol Nidrei, there's a tradition to read the verse "Light is sown (saved away) for the righteous, and for the straight hearted, happiness" (or zarua la'tzadik, u'le'yishrei lev, simcha). This is a line that many ignore or miss as they come late for Kol Nidrei, or are simply looking forward to the higher profile Kol Nidrei prayer.

Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon wrote at length about this verse, and to summarize his message, the verse is telling us an important message. We spend the High Holidays thinking about being righteous, and how we can be more righteous. But we need to know that righteousness isn't the highest goal. Above being righteous is being straight-hearted.

Straight-hearted means not just doing the right thing, but having no deceit or ulterior motives or back-handedness in our hearts while we're doing whatever we're doing. There are many people who are righteous but not necessarily straight-hearted. But on Yom Kippur, when we're doing a "gap analysis" to see where we've fallen short in the past, and asking G-d for atonement for any mistakes we've made, it's important to have our eye on the biggest goal, being straight-hearted.

As I wrote above, I don't have time to expand on this, but I think that if we all think about it, and think about the intent behind the conversations in Harry Potter about Harry's pure heart and its importance and uniqueness, we'll have more to think about on Yom Kippur.

I hope everyone has a great Yom Kippur and an easy fast, and that we all have a new year with not only the light (clarity) of righteousness, but the happiness that G-d promises to the straight-hearted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kids and self-control

I'm sure I'll think of a connection later to Harry Potter, but this is just a quick post about something I saw that I find fascinating: Psychological and Educational research on the importance of self-control. Certainly the connection to Judaism is obvious, especially during the time period between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur where we're focusing on self-improvement.

The book that's discussed in the video is available here:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dumbeldore's repentance (teshuva) - a sign of a leader, or unbecoming of a leader?

The period before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is always one of introspection, teshuva (repentance), and hopefully self-improvement. I wrote a series of articles a few years ago on examples of repentance in Harry Potter, and in the first article I listed Dumbeldore as an example of someone who clearly repented and changed his ways in the course of the story.

Deathly Hallows does a great job of portraying people's reactions to Dumbeldore's having made mistakes in his past. His opponents were thrilled to find something to "take him down" for, and even his followers (like Harry) were confused at the conflict between their image of their leader and the pictures they were seeing of his past. This is not different from all the revelations we see in newspapers nowadays, of politicians with questionable actions in their past.

The question is: Is Dumbeldore tainted by having consorted with Grindewald and planned anti-muggle activities? Or should he be judged only by who he is today?

This is a question that comes up often nowadays in how leaders are portrayed, both politicians and religious Jewish leaders. Is a President a worse President, or a worse human being, because of whether he inhaled drugs as a college student? Is a Rabbinical Scholar less wise, less worthy of following, or less leadership-worthy, because of whether he did something 30 years earlier that he wouldn't do today? Are the characters in the Torah less Sacred and less awe-inspiring if they did things that make them human and that we can learn from?

In the Harry Potter stories, I think the resounding answer is that Dumbeldore wouldn't have been Dumbeldore if he hadn't done what he did as a teen. Yes, it was painful for him later, but so much of his character, of his empathy, and of his understanding came from his living through his father's actions, his realizations about Grindewald, and his decision to move his life in the other direction.

This exact point is discussed in Harry Potter and Torah in a chapter titled Mudbloods Moabites and Moshiach. The chapter makes the point that the ancestors of King David, and thereby the ancestors of all Jewish Kings and of the Moshiach, have their roots in some very shady deeds. From Lot and his daughters to Yehuda and Tamar, we see why the Midrash says "I found King David my servant - where was he found? In Sodom!"

This is explained very clearly in the Hebrew book MiMa'amakim, which writes (page 95) as follows: In the period before Moshiach, the Jewish people will be in a dark and terrible state, and it will be the Moshiach's job to raise them to the highest levels. For him to have the power to do this, Divine Providence will have it that even the Moshiach's birth will reflect transforming definitive evil to the highest spirituality. Everyone alive will know that he has the ability to similarly transform all.

After all, don't we want leaders that have themselves accomplished the self-improvement and growth that we all aspire to ourselves? Don't we want leaders that can relate to us and inspire us?

The Talmud says that if we re-make ourselves on Rosh HaShana, G-d will credit us on Yom Kippur as a brand new creation, free of any of the baggage that we may have picked up along the way. Not only do leaders need to know how to do this, but we do as well.

I want to wish everyone a sweet new year and meaningful Rosh HaShana holiday. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life and of all the Blessings possible.