Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Harry Potter themes in Parshat Bo: Magic Wands & Unity

This week's Torah portion, Parshas Bo, for the week leading up to Shabbat Jan 27, 2007, is referred to several times in Harry Potter and Torah, relating to two different themes. One is magic wands, the other is unity.

The Torah portion starts out with the final plagues. In the eighth plague, locusts, G-d tells Moses to "raise your hand over the land of Egypt, and locusts will rise over the land" (Ex 10:12). What does Moses do? The Torah continues "And Moses raised his staff over the land of Egypt..." (Ex 10:13). Why did Moses raise his staff and not just his hand? His Divine command hadn't referred to the staff! Commentaries say that Moses and Aaron knew, even without being told by G-d, that staffs were critical to their enacting miracles (Ha'amek Davar and Ibn Ezra on Ex 9:22-23).

Why are the staffs needed? The full explanation is in the chapter on magic wands in Harry Potter and Torah. In a nutshell, Chassidic writings teach that staffs and sticks and wands are all symbols of the first step in the creation of the world, when G-d first created the 3-dimensional universe, and after that created the "stuff" that He put in that universe. A staff or stick or wand symbolizes the creation of the first dimension, which we know in geometry is in the form of a straight line. Think of a staff or wand as a physical X-axis, which channels some of the powers of creation from G-d's creation of the world. Since miracles essentially involve changing creation, stepping outside of the rules of nature, they need the power of G-d's creation to be enacted. This power is brought in by a staff, stick, or wand. (This is a complicated idea, see the book for a more complete explanation.)

Before the tenth and final plague, the Torah tells us of the preparations that the Jews were commanded to do for the first Passover, when G-d "passed over" their houses and killed the firstborn Egyptians. They sacrificed sheep and dipped branches into the animal's blood to paint it on their doorposts. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon explains the symbolism of this action in terms of Jewish unity. Several generations earlier Joseph's brothers sold Joseph into slavery and then dipped his coat (the "coat of many colors") into blood to convince their father that Joseph had been killed. Now, in Egypt, the Jews had to perform the same action, dipping (in blood), not in animosity but in unity. The action of hatred was replaced by an action of unity. This is the lesson of the "dipping twice" at the Passover Seder, that things we do can cause disunity and hatred or can cause unity. Hatred caused the exile in Egypt, unity caused the redemption. We should choose unity.

This theme of unity is seen in the Harry Potter series, where Dumbeldore says that in fighting the evil Voldemort, "we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided." As the sorting hat sings, "we must unite inside her (the school) or we'll crumble from within." Magical strength, like Jewish strength, comes from unity. "Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."

Harry Potter and Torah has twelve pages of examples of the importance of unity in the Torah.

I'll post more later this week, including the first installment of some more new material that wasn't ready for the book. Stay tuned... (click here to subscribe to this blog by e-mail.)

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