Harry Potter and Torah, a collection of Jewish insights related to the Harry Potter series, written by Dov Krulwich.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Last-minute afikomen present: Harry Potter and Torah
For more info see http://www.harrypottertorah.com or e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Buy at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1847532373?tag=hpt-20
Buy at Barnes&Noble:
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Friday, March 30, 2007
An offbeat thought about Passover
Now on to a new idea related to Passover.
Imagine the following scene, and how you'd react if it happened to you. You walk into your neighborhood fast food joint and see a sandwich described as "Grilled lambchop on a crispy bun with our special spicy sauce." Sound tasty? Imagine you go ahead and order it, pay for it, get to your table, unwrap it, take a big bite, and HUH? You find a crispy bun with spicy sauce, but no lambchop!
How would you react? Would you complain? Ask for a replacement? Ask to see the manager? Yell and scream? Or would you suffer through it? Try to enjoy it? Even if you'd eat it, would you decide that you really like spicy sauce on a crispy bun even without the lambchop? Is there any chance you'd hope to get another one just like it next time you were in that restaurant?
I think it's a good guess that most of us would complain. Some loudly, some quietly, some with understanding, some with impatience, but we'd all want the real sandwich.
Or would we?
We say in the Hagada: "In memory of the Temple, as Hillel did: This is what Hillel did when the Temple was standing, he would make a sandwich ("korech") with (meat from) the Passover sacrifice, matza, and maror (bitter herbs), and eat them together, to fulfill the verse 'eat it on Matza with maror'."
Hillel ate his lambchop sandwich, with meat from the Passover sacrifice, on a "crispy bun" (matza) with "spicy sauce" (maror). In memory of Hillel's practice, we eat a "korech" sandwich of matza and maror. But the lambchop is missing!
Why don't we miss the meat in our Korech? Why don't we complain "Where's the meat?"
The obvious answer is that most of us find it hard to relate to the sacrifices in the Temple service. Meat, for us, is something to buy shrink-wrapped in a store, or to order in a restaurant. We don't want to know what goes on at the meat processing plants or in the butcher shops, and we can't relate at all to meat processing as a holy part of a Temple service. Meat isn't holy, it's deliciously (or not) mundane.
And yet the Hagada also includes prayers to return to the Passover Sacrificial service. In the blessing over the second cup we read: "Blessed are You, G-d, ... Who has redeemed us and redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, and enabled us to live to this night, to eat Matza and Maror. So too, G-d ..., may You enable us to live to other Holidays... happy in the reconstruction of Your city... May we eat there from the offerings and the Passover sacrifices...." And we finish with singing "L'Shana Ha'Ba'ah bi'Yerushalayim," next year in Jerusalem, which in Israel we sing "L'Shana ha'ba'ah bi'Yerushalayim ha'benuya," next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem, next year in Jerusalem with the Temple.
(As an aside, the English word "sacrifice" is a non-Jewish translation. The Hebrew word "korban" has nothing to do with losing something or giving up something, it means "coming close," meaning something that embodies our coming closer to G-d, related to the Hebrew word "karov" which means "close.")
How can we even imagine the Passover holiday with a Passover Sacrifice? How can we possibly relate to Holy meat?
I think that clearly that we can't imagine it. Even if we can develop an intellectual understanding of the Passover sacrifice (and there are certainly a lot of explanations written in Torah literature on the meaning of the sacrifices and the Temple service), none of us can possibly relate to eating sacrificial meat. How could we? We have no frame of reference for it - we can't even imagine its being part of our life.
But this is no different from other mitzvos that need to be experienced in order to be understood.
If our only experience with wine was getting tipsy, would we understand the feeling of Friday night Kiddush? And yet Friday night kiddush feels different from wine with dinner. Shabbat challah feels different from dinner rolls. Fasting on Yom Kippur feels different from a strict diet. Matza at the Seder feels different from crackers as a snack. Prayers in Hebrew feel different from singing "Fraire Jaques."
Who thinks about the fruit they eat? Fruit is fruit. But fruit in Israel tastes different. Do visitors to Israel really rave about Israeli Orange juice because it's better-made than Tropicana? Maybe, but many feel some intangeable difference which I think comes from holiness. And there's no way to explain it.
Imagine if you'd never heard of a bris (circumcision, "brit mila"). Would anyone hear of it for the first time and think of it as a holy experience? "Barbaric!" we'd yell. "How can a service be built around a painful operation?" And yet this same mitzva is one that almost all Jews hold on to more than any other, as a central and emotional part of bringing a Jewish boy into the world. Because we've experienced it, we relate to it and feel it.
Eating sacrificial meat is something none of us can relate to, since we've never done it. But if we did, it wouldn't be unimaginable, it would be as real as Shabbat kiddush wine, Israeli orange juice, or a bris.
Picture the following scene in Messianic times: You walk into the meat section of a TempleMart supermarket in Jerusalem. There will be no guards or security cameras, since all guns and bombs will have been turned into plows (or microprocessors). You won't see anyone pushing or shoving in line, since everyone will love their neighbor. In the store, we'll see signs not only for different cuts of meat, but also for meat from that day's sacrifices. Some will have stickers saying that they can only be eaten in Jerusalem, or by people in a particularly pure state, or by Cohens or Levis, or must be eaten before dark that day.
There will still be non-sacrificial meat, because the amount of meat sacrificed each year is nowhere near the amount of meat eaten each year by the Israeli or Kosher markets. But we'll feel the difference. In the TempleMart, the Cohen family three-year-old will be whining about the "daily sacrifice burger" tasting so much better than the "regular burger" that his mother put in the cart, and the Levine family teenager will be absolutely refusing to eat anything for dinner other than shnitzel from that day's peace offerings ("like, no way!").
I know I'm going way overboard with literary license here, but my point is this: However life in Messianic times will look exactly, we'll have gained the ability to relate to the holiness of sacrificial meat. We'll "get it." It'll be as normal as Kiddush wine. And just like those of us living in Israel remember "the old country," and remember how before moving to Israel we didn't "get" how great it would be to live in Israel, I expect that in Messianic times we'll all remember back to now, back when we had silly locks on our doors because noone really loved their neighbor, back when we had metal detectors in airports because people were making war against other nations, and back when we just "didn't get" sacrificial meat, back when we'd never experienced eating food that so directly embodied our relationship with G-d.
Even now, though, we can realize what we're missing. While we're having our Seders, reading and acting out and remembering the Exodous from Egypt, we can at least think about something that's missing from our lives and from our psyches: the ability to relate to the original Passover Seders and to Hillel's original sandwich, as well as other aspects of life after redemption.
I happen to think that my Korech sandwich, with matza and maror, would taste a heck of a lot better with some lambchop. Maybe the only way we can relate to sacrificial meat and the Temple service is to say to ourselves in the middle of our Seders: "Hey! I want the meat in my Korech!"
Happy Passover to everyone, and L'Shana Ha'Ba'ah Bi'Yerushalayim Ha'Benuya.
Harry Potter and Torah now available directly from Amazon in Europe and worldwide
And as I mentioned before, you can also buy from Barnes and Noble:
or directly from the publisher: http://www.lulu.com/content/545231
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Cover pictures for Book Seven (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Barnes and Noble online store now selling Harry Potter and Torah
Instead of selling it for $19.95, you can buy it there for only $17.95.
And if you're a barnesandnoble.com member, it's only $16.15!
Click here to see and buy the book at Barnes and Noble:
Of course, you can also continue to buy the book at Amazon or directly from the publisher.
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com or click below to add a blog comment.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Great Afikomen present for a teenager!
or at Barnes and Noble here:
The Passover Haggadah and the movie Titanic
Every year many Jews face the same dillema on Passover. We celebrate the holiday with a Seder, and we want to read the Hagada (the book traditionally read at the Seder) and remember and discuss the Exodus from Egypt, as Jews have been doing for thousands of years, but the words and structure of the Hagada are hard to relate to.
Or is it?
Would you believe that the Passover Hagada is set up just like the Academy Award winning movie, Titanic?
While I'm not proposing Leonardo DeCaprio as Moses, and don't want to lower the Seder to the moral level of Hollywood, I do think that the analogy can help us understand the Hagada.
Titanic is a long movie with two big parts and a few small ones. First we have a brief introduction in modern times, showing people's interest in the ship, outlining the story, and introducting the lead character. The movie then goes back in time and launches into an hour-long story of the lives of two main characters, Jack and Rose, and their relationship as the ship sails. After an hour of character building and relationships, the ship hits the fateful iceberg, Jack and Rose's whole world changes in an instant, and we have the second half of the movie: an hour of heart-racing action as the ship sinks. Up and down the ship they chase, trying over and over to survive. Rose is among the survivors, and we then end with a few minutes back in modern times, with the touching culmination of Rose's long and eventful life.
When the movie came out, a lot of people complained about the movie being too long. After all, a movie about Titanic should be about the ship sinking. Why do we want to spend a whole hour learning about fictional characters? And why do we need as many scenes running up and down the stairs trying to get off the boat?
One answer is given in the movie itself. In the second-to-last scene we see a modern-day scientist thinking about Roses's first-hand account of the ship's sinking. He says "I've been looking for Titanic for years, but she never got to me before." In other words, the event he knew so much about intellectually hadn't really touched him emotionally until he heard it in the context of someone effected.
This is the goal of the Passover Hagada. The point of Passover isn't just to know intellectually that the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt and were redeemed. It's supposed to "get to us." The Hagada says that we have to "see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt," and explains that "even if we were all smart, all wise, and all learned in Torah, we'd still be obligated to tell the story of the Exodous" on Passover.
The steps in the Hagada are remarkably like the scenes in the movie. (Or rather, the scenes in the movie are remarkably like the 2000-year-old Hagada.)
At the beginning of the Hagada we have an opening, before launching into the exodous itself, where we discuss the significance of the story. Like scientists obsessed with looking for Titanic, Talmudic sages stayed up all night at their Seder. Like the scientist's brief overview of the ship's sinking, we review the symbols of the Seder for a few minutes (in the 4 questions) and summarize the facts that "we were slaves in Egypt... and G-d took us out."
We then start the story, but not with the Exodous itself. The Talmud says that the Seder "starts with disgrace and ends with glory." The Hagada starts with two forms of disgrace, that our forefathers worshipped idols and that we left our own land, the Land of Israel, to become slaves, with horrible suffering, in Egypt. Without starting with the disgrace we can't truly understand the glory. Just as the story of Jack and Rose makes the ship's sinking so much more meaningful, our idol-worshipping ancestors and painful slavery should give perspective to G-d's taking us to freedom and making us His people.
This is why the Hagada spends so much time talking about the Jewish people leaving Israel for Egypt, and emphasizing all the things the Egyptians did to us during the slavery. It isn't enough to know intellectually that we were enslaved, we need to imagine what it was like to have burden added to burden, to have personal and family lives interrupted, to have our lives and the lives of our children disregarded by slavemasters.
Then the Hagada switches gears faster than Titanic hit the iceberg. The Talmud describes redemption coming "like the blink of an eye." At the stroke of midnight G-d brought us out of slavery, and our lives changed from suffering to salvation. Not just that, He did miracles and more miracles. Signs and wonders. 10 here, 50 there, 200 here, 250 there.
In Titanic, everyone who survived the disaster went on to live lives that they obviously wouldn't have lived had they perished. Rose promises Jack "never to forget," and goes on to cherish the pictures showing her life's many accomplishments. Similarly, G-d's taking us out of slavery didn't just save people then, it led to the future lives of all the Jewish people. That's why the true "ending in glory" isn't just being freed from slavery, it's being fed in the desert, receiving the Torah, being taken to the Land of Israel, and there becoming G-d's nation, none of which would have happened if not for the miracle of the Exodous.
In Titanic, if Rose had only survived the ship's disaster, "Dayeinu," it would have been enough. If she had also lived to marry and have children, Dayeinu, it would be enough to make her salvation a huge thing. But we see at the end that she (in the story) did more than survive, she had an entire life of childhood friends, horse-riding and airplanes, marriage, children and grandchildren. These accomplishments are what make her being saved from Titanic all the more amazing.
This is one reason we sing Dayeinu at the Seder. It's not because we'd have been happy to have been brought into the desert without being given food, or to skip any of the other things listed, but because each step in the development of the Jewish people after the Exodus made the Exodus itself all the more remarkable.
Then, if we can really internalize it all, if we can feel how bad the Egyptians treated us and how much G-d did for us, it should feel natural to start praising G-d with the Hallel, the prayer of thanks. Only after all that, only when we "get it," are we ready for the matza and marror (bitter herbs), for truly living out the holiday.
Can our Seders "get to us" as much as the movie Titanic? Can we care as much about the Exodus by the end of our Seders as we care about Rose's life in the movie's final scene? Unfortunately, most of us connect more with movies than ritual. But if we try, and focus on internalizing the message of each step in the Hagada, maybe we can come close.
Hopefully, if the message of the Hagada can really "get to us," we can achieve what the Talmud says, that just as the redemption from Egypt happened on Passover, similarly on Passover we will see the Messianic redemption and true world peace.
Chag Samayach, Happy Passover, and Le'Shana Ha'ba'ah Bi'Yerushalayim Ha'Benuyah.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Harry Potter and Torah now for sale on Amazon
The book will also be available soon on other on-line bookstores.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
A Passover thought related to Harry Potter: The importance of Jewish unity
At the end of Goblet of Fire, Professor Dumbeldore 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." (Goblet of Fire, chapter 37)
This theme, the importance of unity, is found throughout Jewish thought as well. Harry Potter and Torah has a chapter full of examples of this from through the Torah and holidays.
We see the theme of unity in one of the more puzzling symbols in the Passover Seder. Passover ("Pesach" in Hebrew) is probably the holiday most full of symbols -- matza for redemption coming quickly, maror (bitter herbs) for the bitterness of slavery and exile, charoset (charoses) for the cement used in the hard labor of slavery, leaning on pillows during the meal signifying our having become like royalty after getting out of Egypt, and the list goes on. Chock full o' symbols!
One of the symbols which is harder to understand is mentioned in the 4th of the 4 questions: "On all other nights we do not dip our food even once, on this night (the Seder) we dip twice." This is referring to the two things that we dip during the seder, the karpas (vegetable) in salt water and the maror (bitter herbs) in charoses.
Leaving aside the fact that we do occasionally dip our food during the year (especially the salsa or guacamole lovers among us), what is the symbolism of dipping food? Why does dipping rank up there with the symbols in the other 3 questions, matza, maror, and leaning?
Rav Matisyahu Solomon quotes a number of commentaries that connect these two "dippings" to two events that happened in the Bible involving dipping. The first was when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, and then "dipped" his coat (the "coat of many colors") into animal's blood to make their father (Jacob) believe that Joseph had been killed. The second was right before the exodus from Egypt, when the Jews were commanded to "dip" a bundle of hyssop branches into animal blood and paint it on their doorposts, which would prevent the plague of the first born from affecting the house, and instead would make the plague "pass over" the Jewish houses.
The point of dipping branches in blood and painting it on our doors is not that they acted like pagans. The point, Rav Solomon says, is that they were symbolically taking the same act that was done previously in hatred (when Joseph's brothers sold him and dipped his coat in blood) and doing it now in Jewish unity. The "dipping" of hatred led to the exile and slavery in Egypt, while the "dipping" in Jewish unity led to the exodus and redemption. By "dipping" and painting blood on the doorposts, they were demonstrating the removal of animosity from among the Jewish people.
This is the lesson of "dipping" during the seder. Dipping can take a perfectly good tasting vegetable and make it salty, or can take something bitter and reduce the bitterness. The same action can lead to exile or exodus. While we're remembering the exodus during the seder, we have to remember how we became worthy of Divine redemption: by taking animosity between Jews and turning it into unity.
This Shabbat, March 17 2007, we also say the prayer welcoming in the new Jewish Month, which starts next Tuesday. This prayer, called Kiddush HaChodesh, includes a paragraph of hope for the Messianic era to come soon:
"May He who performed miracles for our ancestors, and took them from (Egyptian) slavery to freedom, may he redeem us too, soon, and gather us from the four corners of the earth. All Jews are friends, Amen."
This prayer is clearly connecting both the redemption from Egypt and our hope for future Divine redemption to friendship and unity between Jews.
I hope everyone has a great Passover Seder, and will post other Passover-related ideas here between now and the holiday.
Shabbat Shalom everyone!
A joke for the season: The Jewish knight
A British Jewish man named David Cohen was honored to become a knight of the British empire. After being told of the honor, he was instructed in the ceremony in which he would have to participate. The group of new knights would appear before the queen, each would kneel, recite a ceremonial sentence in Latin, be tapped on the shoulders by the queen's sword, and would thereafter be a knight of the realm.
The problem was that David Cohen couldn't memorize the Latin phrase that he would have to say. He practiced and practiced and practiced, but he just couldn't get the Latin words to come out right. As the day of the ceremony grew closer, he got more and more worried, and spent hours trying to learn the Latin, but he couldn't get it.
On the day of the ceremony, he figures he'll just have to bluff his way through. He goes to the ceremony, and there's the queen with her ceremonial sword, dubbing the new knights. Knight after knight is saying the Latin phrase, but when it's David's turn, he freezes. He just can't say the Latin! In sheer panic, he kneels as he's supposed to, and says to himself, "OK, the queen probably doesn't know Latin either, I'll just say something in a weird-sounding language and she won't know the difference." So he wracks his brain for something weird-sounding, and remembers an obscure sentence from his youth: "Ma nishtana ha'laila ha'zeh mi'kol ha'leilot."
The room goes silent. Noone knows what to make of this! The queen turns to her nearest advisor and asks him: "Why is this knight different from all the other knights?"
Friday, March 9, 2007
The magically levitated Torah (Parshat Ki Tisa)
The Torah portion of Ki Tisa has the story of the golden calf: Moses is up on the mountain getting the Torah from G-d, and meanwhile the Jews begin to freak out. "Moses has been gone too long," they said, "he's never coming back!" Things get more and more out of control, the people let their freaking-out get more and more irrational, and despite all the miracles they saw in the Exodus from Egypt, they end up making a golden calf.
Meanwhile, up on the hill, G-d says to Moses "get down there, the people are freaking out." Well, not in those words, but that's the idea. Moses goes down the mountain, taking the two tablets of stone that G-d had written the Ten Commandments on. He sees the golden calf, and proceeds to drop the tablets of the Ten Commandments on the ground, smashing them.
The Midrash adds a very strange level of detail to the story. The two tablets of the Ten Commandments were obviously huge. How did Moses carry them? The Midrash tells us that as Moses walked down the mountain, the Divine letters of Torah that G-d had written on the tablets magically elevated the stone, so that Moses didn't have to bear their weight. This is why the Torah describes the scene of Moses going down the mountain with a lot of details of the lettering on the stones (Ex 32:15-16), which would otherwise seem out of place. The Midrash says that when Moses got close to the scene of the Jews worshipping the golden calf, the letters of Torah flew off the stones and went back to heaven. Once they weren't there anymore, the stones stopped being levitated by the letters, and reverted to being too heavy for Moses to carry. This is when he dropped them on the ground, smashing them.
This Midrash may be fun for Harry Potter fans to read, because it brings images of Locomotor charms, but what is it trying to tell us? What's the message or lesson from this Midrash?
The Bais HaLevy (the great-grandfather of the Solovetchic family in America) interprets this in way that I find very interesting, as follows: (Note: I'm paraphrasing heavily in explaining the Bais HaLevy, anyone interested can see Drasha 14 in the back of the Bais HaLevy.)
G-d originally wanted to make the Torah easy to understand. Instead of the written Torah being as we know it now, in which laws and moral lessons are phrased cryptically and need to be inferred and reasoned out from the words, the original form of the written Torah that G-d gave Moses had everything spelled out clearly. All of G-d's moral lessons were written explicitly, all the laws were clearly elaborated, and in general everything we needed to know was fully explicit and easy to understand from the text of the written Torah. The Torah in this form obviously was a lot longer, since every phrase and sentence in the Torah as we have it had to be written out with all of its elaborations. But this Torah was easy to learn, easy to acquire, metaphorically easy for Moses to carry down the hill at Mount Sinai.
But when G-d saw the Jews worshipping the golden calf, just weeks after the splitting of the sea and the exodous from Egypt, he (so to speak) changed his mind, deciding that the Jewish people needed the Torah in the form that we have it today. He saw that the Jewish people needed to invest effort in understanding Torah and applying it to our lives. Without investment of effort, Jews could go straight from a spiritual high seeing miracles at the Exodus from Egypt to a spiritual low of worshipping an idol. But true lasting greatness comes when people invest their efforts in something. "No pain, no gain." Or "no guts, no glory."
This is why, according to the Bais HaLevy, the tablets of Torah were levitating as Moses carried them down the hill. They were easy. They weren't "heavy" in the physical or metaphorical senses. But when Moses got down to where the Jews were worshipping the calf, the extra letters, the explanation and elaboration that the first version of the written Torah had included, flew back to G-d, leaving the heavy, hard to understand, form of the Torah that we have today. This is what Moses then dropped under the newly heavy load.
This is why the Torah is so precise when describing G-d's command to Moses to later carve new tablets to receive the Torah the second time, in Ex 34:1: "Carve yourself two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke." First, the second tablets were carved by Moses -- the Torah now required human effort. Second, G-d would write the words that were on the first tablets when Moses broke them, after the extra elaboration letters had flown off. Without this understanding, the words "that you broke" would be superfluous, but with the Bais HaLevy's understanding it all makes sense.
When we read Harry Potter books, or when we have to do something hard in life, we often think to ourselves how great it would be to have a magical way of making things easy. Why shouldn't things be easy? Doesn't G-d want religion to be easy? Doesn't G-d want morality to be easy?
The answer we see above is that easy things aren't always the things that can last. The spiritual high from seeing miracles can disappear in an instant, but the spiritual high that we invest effort in will stay with us. This is true of spirituality and of everything else in life -- the things that we put effort into are the things that truly matter to us.
This concept applies to a lot of areas of life. In Harry Potter, it relates to Hagrid's saying that the magical world stays hidden because otherwise muggles (non-magical people) would constantly be wanting magical solutions to all their problems. In the modern world, it relates to Bill Gates's famous statement that he would give his daughter enough money to do whatever she wanted with her life, but not enough money that should could do nothing. Exercise requires effort. Knowledge requires studying. No pain, no gain.
So the next time we start wanting something to be easier, whether it's wanting religion and morality to be easier or wanting our homework or jobs to be simpler, we can remember: G-d has made the world to take effort, but this effort isn't for nothing, it's what will make our accomplishments last longer and mean more.
Shabbat Shalom everyone!
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Passover is only a month away!
Harry Potter and Torah mentions Passover and the Exodous from Egypt 4 or 5 times, and I'll be posting Passover-related material here over the next few weeks. Of course, if you want to have it all handy at your Seder, you still have time to buy the book now if you haven't yet.
One thing I do each year in preparation for Passover is to buy a new Haggadah, with a new perspective or commentary that will add something new to my Seder. One that I recommend is the Passover Survival Kit Hagaddah, pictured below on the right. There are literally hundreds of others on Amazon and in Jewish bookstores -- click here for a complete list on Amazon. I'll post later with some of my personal favorites.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Harry Potter and Torah messages in other blogs
Jack's Shack mentioned my blog here, and a comment writer wrote that I have a simplistic view of witchcraft. I'm happy to agree, everything I know about witchcraft comes from reading the Harry Potter books a dozen times each. (If anyone has anything to add to anything I write to give a more sophisticated view of witchcrast, feel free to leave comments.) The commenter then went on to say that I "too much tow the party line," which is fun to read since there are others who seem to think my book is evil for being too far from the party line! But if the party line means Judaism based on traditional Jewish scholarship, I'm guilty as charged.
A blog called WeirdJews mentioned my book here, and commenters there were trying to figure out what I meant by donating a tenth of my profits to schools "without a Torah oath." That's what prompted my explanation here.
My cousin mentioned the book here, prompting some interesting comments. The first comment about "kishuf," which is Hebrew for prohibited sorcery, is a case in point about my comment above about my book's not quite towing the party line. The issue is discussed in several chapters of Harry Potter and Torah, including the chapter on "magical work on Shabbat" and "magic shows." Whether the magic taught in Hogwarts would be called kishuf or not (if it were real), the material in Harry Potter and Torah is cerainly not kishuf.
Well, enough for now...
Friday, March 2, 2007
A Harry Potter thought for Purim: the king's magical book
In Megilat Esther, the book of Esther containing the Purim story, we read in the beginning of chapter 6 that the king couldn't sleep and asked that his book of records of his life be brought to him. The usual translation is that he asked that it be read to him, but the Hebrew can be read that the book "should be made to be read to him." The Talmud (Megila 15b) says that the book opened magically to the story of Mordechai, fitting the literal reading of the Hebrew very well.
What is the Talmud trying to tell us?
I think that we can answer the question by analogy to the Harry Potter series. Throughout the series we hear magical explanations of things that seem like circumstance to non-magical people. For example, a number of magical places (such as the Qwidditch Cup stadium, and the Hogwarts castle) are enchanted such that any non-magical people that get close to them will all of a sudden remember something that they had to do in another place. Similarly, non-magical people don't see or know about Dementors, but they feel sad all of a sudden whenever in one's presence.
These sorts of details in the Harry Potter books make them fun to read, since they make us think of magical explanations of circumstances like remembering something we have to do or all of a sudden feeling sad.
The Talmud above might be teaching us that things that happen by circumstance, such as opening a book to a page ramdomly, are in fact caused by G-d to happen in a way that will fit a plan that He has for the world. Circumstance is not fitting a magical enchantment, but in a similarly magical way is fitting a Divine plan. This makes everyday events as magical as they are in Harry Potter, but the magic is Divine, not created by wizards.
The entire Purim story is in fact teaching that lesson. G-d's name doesn't appear anywhere in the book of Esther, but we know and believe that circumstances are being orchestrated by G-d to bring about the results that He wants. Even the name "Esther" reflects this, being from the same Hebrew root as "hester," meaning hidden. G-d's hand in events might be hidden, but It's there nonetheless. It doesn't take a wizard to see the magic, but it requires that we be attuned to how G-d is shaping the events in the world to bring out His plans.
I want to wish everybody a good Shabbat and a Happy Purim!