Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Harry Potter, Shofar and Jewish Unity

Below is an repost of an excerpt from Harry Potter and Torah on the subject of blowing the shofar and Jewish unity.  Other Rosh HaShana thoughts related to Harry Potter are here, here, and here.

Shana tova everyone!

Harry Potter, blowing the shofar, and Jewish unity

At the end of the Goblet of Fire, Professor delivers some well-chosen words about the need for unity among students and all "wizardfolk" who oppose the evil wizard Voldemort:

"Every guest in this hall ... will be welcomed back here, at any time, should they wish to come. I say to you all, once again -- in light of Voldemort's return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.

"Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can
only fight it by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.
Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical
and our hearts are open." (Goblets of Fire, chapter 37)

The next year, the sorting hat, the magical talking hat whose job it is to divide the students into the four schoolhouses, infuses the same theme into its start-of-year song:

"...And now the sorting hat is here
And you all know the score:
I sort you into houses
Because that's what I'm for.
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong....
Oh, know the peril, read the signs,
The warning history shows.
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external deadly foes.
And we must unite inside her
Or we'll crumble from within.
I have told you, I have warned you...
Let the Sorting now begin."
(Order of the Phoenix, chapter 11)

The same lesson of the importance of unity is pervasive throughout the Torah and Jewish prayer. Jewish unity is both a Torah-ordained objective and a source of Divine strength.

Before blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShana we read Tehilim (Psalms) chapter 47. Obviously one reason is that it mentions shofar blasts. But at the end of the paragraph we read the following:

"Representatives of nations gathered, the nation of the G-d of Abraham, for the protectors of the land are G-d's, He is greatly exalted."

Rav Salomon explained this as referring to the Jewish people whenever we gather together. We're all different, "representatives of nations," all with different customs and practices, but when we gather together for the sake of being Jews, as "the nation of the G-d of Abraham," then we have the collective ability to be "protectors of the land," and the power and beauty of this unity leads to G-d's being "greatly exalted."

In 1914, the Chassidic Rebbe of Belz made the following succinct statement concerning the difficult times felt by Jews of that era: "It is of the utmost importance that the Jews love one another. One must love even the lowliest Jew as himself. One must engender unity and keep far away from anything that causes disunity. The salvation of Israel during times of trouble rests on this".

Note that unity does not require agreeing with everyone. The Rebbe of Belz was not suggesting
condoning the actions of "even the lowliest Jew." Rather, unity means disagreeing respectfully and treating others with love regardless of agreement or disagreement, and caring about the needs of others as we care about our own.

Satmar Chassidic teachings explain that suspecting another Jew of wrongdoing is sometimes necessary, but nonetheless is something that we should literally cry for ever having to do. This teaching is based on the events described in the Yom Kippur musaf service, where the sages cried at suspecting the High Priest of wrongdoing in the Yom Kippur Temple service, based on the Talmud (Yoma 18b, Mishna 1:5).

Our goal as Jews should be to have so much unity that we become "representatives of nations, the nation of the G-d of Abraham," with all of our differences and yet complete unity of purpose.

We need, as Dumbeldore said:

"… an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and
language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."

Shana Tova!