I went to see the new Star Wars movie the other night. Though I’d love to claim that I was dragged by my teenage son, there’s the small matter of who sat in the driver seat of the car and paid for admission…that being me. In addition to trying to avoid movies altogether these days, I specifically did NOT want to go see this movie, and it’s not because of piety or the anticipation of not liking it. Indeed, the desire to avoid the movie grew out of the anticipation of liking it far too much. Not liking it per se, but being drawn into the fantasy.
Star Wars (please spare me the “Episode IV, A New Hope” garbage) came out when I was 12. I was thoroughly transfixed, and then completely hooked after The Empire Strikes Back. If you ask me, I’d sooner avoid considering just how much time has been spent and how many brain cells have been put to use considering the intricacies of the Skywalker saga and mishpacha. I successfully avoided seeing Episode VII in theatres, but succumbed on the small screen, and, yes, I really do want to know who Rey’s parents are. After seeing Rouge One, I found myself thinking anew about the backstories and drama of the whole silly mess.
This experience left me thinking quite a bit about fantasy, epic struggle, heroism, and the deep falsehood of this world, Olam HaZeh. The world would have us believe that epic battles that matter on a physical and existential grand scale happen “out there.” In times long ago or far in the future, in galaxies far, far away. In stories that challenge us to be brave and never give up hope against a relentless and relentlessly evil foe. We imagine how we might respond if called to such a noble task, and hope we would act like our screen heroes. But alas, our lives in reality are dull, boring, mundane, lacking in nobility, challenge, and chances for heroism. This world beckons us to the fantasy of entertainment to taste heroism and struggle.
If only we could know how deeply false this is. There is an epic battle of more profound consequence than we can possibly imagine in our lives every living moment. We face a never ending war with our baser selves, the Yetzer Hara, to become and remain good, dignified people, deeply connected to our creator. But there is another layer of deception here. We hear the language of epic battle as a metaphor. A metaphor is not real. It points to what is real. We use the metaphor of epic battle as a thought to hold onto to help us out from time to time. What we fail to recognize is that it is not a metaphor. It is REALITY. That we often don’t sense it or feel it in our conscious thought does not make it any less real.
The battle that is real in our lives is not fought with swirling music and drama. It is long and difficult. We wonder how we would respond to battle, yet fail to recognize that the battle is already on. Our chance for heroism isn’t awaiting us in a fantasy or some other unforeseen circumstance. It is right here, right now. Are we heroes in our families? Are we heroes in our business practices? Are we heroes in our communities? Are we heroes in the eyes of HaShem? Do we imagine that becoming those heroes is simple? That it doesn’t take an epic warrior to succeed? To not give up when we fall short. To face down our enemy with steely resolve. To train our spirits and become skilled in our weapons, Torah, mitzvos, tefillah, chessed, etc. Do we think these are merely “nice ideas,” or will we stop fantasizing about heroic battle and join the truly epic battle that is profoundly REAL and already raging.
The stakes could not be higher. As Rabbi Moshe Weinberger once said about leading a life dedicated to d’veikus HaShem, “there is no plan B.” Becoming heroes and seeking HaShem is not a “lifestyle choice.” It is the only choice. It will take all of our strength, concentration, training, hope, and persistence to succeed. Do we think that we will succeed by just trying a little harder?
Of course, it is so much easier when the enemy is external. So many of us would be willing to make great sacrifices, maybe even the ultimate sacrifice of our lives if ordered to be m’chalel Shabbas by a hateful anti-Semite, yet we’ll find ourselves doing the same “minor” chillul Shabbas in a brief, private moment in our homes out of an impulsive desire for convenience. It would be so much easier to summon our bravery and defiance if we could see the enemy with his light saber drawn, but instead the enemy confuses us with logic that tells us that it’s not really a problem, and maybe even a benefit. But the enemy IS external. It isn’t really “us.” It is a foreign element that we have brought upon ourselves. To succeed, we’ll need to know that, and face the external enemy with the same heroism of our on-screen heroes.
For those of us who need the Channukah licht to be m’saken the giving over of our eyes to the Hollywood funhouse, maybe there is a little light to take away from the experience. Perhaps we can use the example of fictional characters to help us imagine the mindset and character that we must adopt in our own epic struggle. If the good guys can stare down evil with some variation of “love/good is stronger than…,” then maybe we can borrow the mental image to strengthen ourselves for the real, difficult, and profoundly noble battle that we face each and every day, within ourselves.
May the…well, you get the idea.