Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Magical Land (part one)

This message is the first installment discussing an idea that does not appear in Harry Potter and Torah, but which similarly finds parallels in the Torah to a theme from the Harry Potter series.
The Magical Land (part one)

Throughout the Harry Potter series we read of magical places, places that have magical spells on them that cause them to effect people in certain ways. For example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (chapter eight) Mr. Weasley explains how non-magical people ("muggles") were prevented from finding the huge stadium built for the Quidditch World Cup:

"Ministry task force of five hundred have been working on it all year. Muggle-repelling charms on every inch of it. Every time Muggles have got anywhere near here all year, they've suddenly remembered urgent appointments and had to dash away again...."

Other magical places similarly can't be seen by Muggles, such as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix (book five) and the Leaky Cauldren pub (first book). The Hogwarts school look like a deserted wreck (complete with signs of danger) to Muggles that walk by.

The Torah tells us that the Land of Israel is similarly magical. While we need to keep in mind the distinction between religious truth and fiction, it's interesting to explore the similarities and differences.

The Torah (in this past Shabbat's Torah portion) describes the Land of Israel as "a land that vomits out its inhabitants" when it becomes defiled (Lev 18:25). When people living there go against G-d's Divine Will, the land itself reacts in a supernatural way and spits them out. The Torah lists improper actions that violate G-d's laws, and says that "the people who lived in the land before you (the Canaanites) did all these things, and defiled the land. You (the Jews) should not cause the land to vomit you out from your impurity, as it spit out those before you" (Lev 18:27-28).

It's clear from the Torah's strong language that the Land of Israel is imbued inherently with a kind of magical spiritual essence, that reacts supernaturally to immoral behavior that happens within its borders. The Jewish people's later exiles from the land are described Biblically as the land's reaction to their actions at the time.

Obviously human behavior and morality is multi-faceted, and complex to judge, and only G-d can judge whether people's actions are moral or not. Many commentaries elaborate on reasons that people might not be vomited out by the land after commiting immoral acts (see, for example, Ramban and Ohr HaChayim on Lev 18:25). But the general principle seems clear from the Torah, that the Land of Israel has a magical supernatural reaction to immoral behavior.

Interestingly, this aspect of the Land of Israel is used in Jewish thought as a yardstick by which to try to understand G-d's perspective. The book Em HaBanim Smeicha (chapter 3) makes the point that if the Land of Israel spits out people that are Divinely judged as being immoral, then it stands to reason that any people NOT spit out by the land are apparently worthy of living there. In other words, even if we see people living in the Land of Israel who engage in seemingly immoral actions, there are obviously mitigating circumstances in G-d's eyes, because the land hasn't spit them out. (This point is clearly debated by others, eg Derech Hatzoloh chapter 128, and this is not intended to be a complete discussion of the issue.)

So we see that the Land of Israel has a magical power very similar to the magical places in Harry Potter that welcome only magical people and not muggles. One difference, however, is that the land's magical powers are tied to G-d's wanting moral behavior, not to any arbitrary distinction meant to keep people away.

This magical power of the Land of Israel is clear from recent history. Mark Twain in 1867 visited the Holy Land and wrote that "it truly is monotonous and uninviting... the valleys are unsightly deserts... it is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes, over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies... Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?" (Innocents Abroad, chapter 56).

Yet 140 years later we see blossoming kibbutzim and growing modern cities, suburban towns and lives of high-tech. Even without claiming to understand G-d's ways, it's clear that the land which spit out its inhabitants is now welcoming the Jewish return.

We'll also see other examples of magical behavior in the Torah's descriptions of the Land of Israel that seem similar to other magical places in the Harry Potter series. I'll continue this theme in a later message....

As always, click here for more about Harry Potter and Torah, or here to buy it from Amazon.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Parent says 12 year old likes Harry Potter and Torah book!

A parent of a 12 year old girl, living in Israel, gave her Harry Potter and Torah as a present, and tells me that she's enjoying it. The English is a bit hard, but she's a real Harry Potter fan and likes the idea of relating Torah to Harry Potter so much that she's apparently slowly reading her way through it.

This is a pleasure to hear since (as I've written before) I wrote Harry Potter and Torah for young adults or teenagers, and wasn't sure whether younger ages would find it readable and fun. But at least this 12 year old girl is finding it slow but fun reading.

Feedback from readers is always a pleasure to receive -- e-mail

If you want to buy the book, click here to buy it at Amazon, or the book's home page for more info on other places it can be bought.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The seventh day of Passover: In the merit of Joseph's magical protection

Hi everyone, I hope you all had fun and meaningful Passover seders.

Sunday night and Monday is the seventh day of Passover (along with Monday night and Tuesday for those of you outside of Israel). Besides being a YomTov holiday day, the seventh day of Passover commemorates the splitting of the sea, which happened a week after the Exodus from Egypt itself.

As I discussed at length in Harry Potter and Torah, the splitting of the sea is discussed by the Talmud as happening in the merit of Joseph, whose bones were being carried by the Jews for reburial in Israel. This is because Joseph earned magical protection by resisting temptation when he first arrived in Egypt. Click here for a previous blog message where I discuss this in more detail.

The splitting of the sea is also another example of magic wands in the Torah, since Moses was instructed by G-d to split the sea miraculously by raising his staff over the sea. This is discussed in depth in the book.