Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harry Potter and Torah ideas about the story of Joseph

Now that we're starting to read the Torah portions concerning Joseph and his dreams, descent to Egypt, and rise to power there, I thought I'd post links to book chapters and blog messages that relate. Besides the message I just posted on Joseph and the power of love, there's:

The Divine Hallows: Torah analogies to book seven's Deathly Hallows
Magical Protection: Magical protection like that which Harry received from his mother's sacrifice
Unity: A lesson to learn from Joseph's coat of many colors

And of course, see the book for more!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Harry Potter, Joseph, and the power of love

The following is revised from a previous post I made right before Book 7 came out.

Harry Potter, Joseph, and the Power of Love

Throughout the books we've read of Dumbeldore's belief that love is the the most powerful magic. Early in the series this seems to be a very abstact concept, such as in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Voldemort tries to magically enter Harry's brain but is unable to do so when Harry thinks about his love for his father-figure Serius. But in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price (chapter 23) the magical power of love is given a more concrete meaning:

[Dumbelore said:] It will take uncommon skill and power to kill a wizard
like Voldemort....

"But I haven't got uncommon skill and power," said Harry, before he could
stop himself.

"Yes, you have," said Dumbeldore firmly. "You have a power that Voldemort
has never had. You can ---"

"I know!" said Harry impatiently. "I can love!" It was only with difficulty
that he stopped himself from adding "Big Deal!"

"Yes, Harry, you can love," said Dumbeldore, who looked as though he knew
perfectly well what Harry had just refrained from saying. "Which, given
everything that has happened to you, is a great and remarkable thing. You are
still yoo young to understand how unusual you are, Harry."


"It is essential that you understand this!" said Dumbeldore, standing up
and striding about the room, his glittering robes swooshing in his wake. Harry
had never seen him so agitated... "It is Voldemort's fault that you were able to
see into his thoughts, his ambitions, ... and yet, Harry, despite your
priviledged insight into Voldemort's world... you have never been seduced by the
Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of
Voldemort's followers!"

"Of course I haven't!" said Harry indignantly. "He killed my Mum and

"You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!" said Dumbeldore
loudly. "The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power
like Voldemorts! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the
suffering, you remain pure of heart...."

"But sir," said Harry, making valiant efforts not to sound argumentative,
"it all comes to the same thing, doesn't it? I've got to try to kill him,

"Got to?" said Dumbelore. "Of course you've got to! But not because of the
prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you've tried! ...
Imagine, please, just for a moment, that you had never heard that prophecy! How
would you feel about Voldemort now? Think!"

Harry ... thought of his mother, his father, and Sirius... A flame seemed
to leap inside his chest, searing his throat.

"I'd want him finished," said Harry quickly. "And I'd want to do it."

... He understood what Dumbeldore had been trying to tell him. It was, he
thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to
teh death and walking into the arena with your head held high... Dumbeldore knew
-- and so do I, and so did my parents -- that there was all the difference in
the world.

We see here that Harry's power of love is a concrete power that gives him magical motivation and strength against the black magic of Voldemort.

In the Torah this power of love, power based on relationship and based on emotion, is the power of Joseph. Joseph is the dreamer. Joseph is the only man in the Torah to be described in terms of his good looks (Gen 39:6, compare with 29:17, 24:16). Joseph is appointed leader of Egypt in a role that seems to be much more about the image of leadership than about management (Gen 41:42-43). And Joseph's blessing from his father is focused on his relationships (Gen 49:22).

On the other hand, the power of the strong rational and intellectual leader is Judah (eg Gen 44:18). Judah took charge of the plan to sell Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:26). And from Judah ultimately came King David and the royal line of kings. Judah was the source of Jewish leadership.

But, as an interesting analogue to the Harry Potter story quoted above, Judah did not have the power to withstand strong temptation from Tamar (Gen 38:15-16) while Joseph DID have the power to withstand similar temptations from Potifar's wife (Gen 39:12). Judah lost his Jewish purity in dealings with non-Jewish tribes (Gen 38:1, Rashi there) while Joseph fought to maintain Jewish seperation in Egypt (Gen 46:34).

However, as the paradigm of leadership by emotion and love and relationship, Joseph is held to a tremendously high standard. Joseph's relationships HAD to be altruistic and for the sake of the greater good. A tiny bit is self-interest (Gen 40:14) caused Joseph to be held in prison for two extra years (Gen 41:1, Rashi). If someone is going to be driven by love and emotion, it must be pure. Emotion of self-interest will not succeed.

Ultimately, the salvation of the Jews in Egypt started with Joseph, and only after that was Judah the leader. And ultimately we are told by the Prophets that Jewish salvation will come from the joining of forces between Joseph and Judah. "Take a stick, and write on it 'for Judah,' ... then take another stick and write on it 'for Joseph,' ... Join them together into one stick, so that they are one in your hand... behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations.. and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land" (Ezekiel 37:16-21, Haftara of VaYigash).

Ultimately the mission of the Jewish people is to combine these two approaches, as Harry had to in Book 7 in order to defeat Voldemort.

Quick note on Israel-Arab meetings in Anapolis

Hi everyone! I've always worked hard to keep my writings about Harry Potter and Torah and my writings and posts about Israel seperate, since people interested in one are often not interested in the other. But anyone following the meetings in Anapolis, or the peace process in general, might be interested in the following links, which raise issues that tend to be ignored in the press. The first is an article from the Wall Street Journal, the second is a letter I wrote in the New York Times:

or you can see these collected at:

I'll have more Harry Potter and Torah articles here in the upcoming week!