Disney and Elul: What Do They Have in Common?

September 6, 2016Cantor Barbara R. Finn, R.J.E.

I am a huge fan of everything Disney – movies, Mickey, and now even Marvel. Our family has vacationed at Walt Disney World and Disneyland more times than we can count. Our daughter was married there, and we have a room in our home devoted to Disney “stuff.”

Believe it or not, some recent Disney movie releases have a distinct connection to the Days of Awe and in particular to our preparations during this month of Elul, as well as to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur

I admire and enjoy the Avengers movies, grateful for a world in which super heroes are willing to protect and save us and those around us – although I wish they were called Defenders, or Protectors, or Role Models. I am especially fond of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, a strong and self-sufficient woman in a world mostly of men.

Although I don’t always think of these fictional characters as teaching meaningful lessons, in the first Avengers movie, Agent Romanoff declares, “I’ve got red in my ledger; I’d like to wipe it out,” even as her adversary points out that it’s impossible to “wipe out that much red.” In fact, Jewish tradition teaches us that we can be forgiven; but we must ask for forgiveness and we must change our behavior to prove we deserve to be forgiven. With changed behavior we can become the people we wish to be: good, kind, helpful to others, and possessing potential to save the world.

The live-action version of Cinderella is another film that addresses turning (t’shuvah) in a way that speaks to viewers of all ages. By urging us to have courage and be kind, it offers a valuable lesson, although it is not always easy to be courageous or kind, not even for Ella. Nonetheless, imagine a world in which we focus on kindness and courage – within our work environment, our family, and our community – and the peace and cooperation that result. In such a world, it’s important to take the lead, to be a role model, and to do things the way they should be done, not the way they’ve always been done. In a world in which words are powerful and can so easily hurt, we all can say “I forgive you,” resulting in profound encouragement and support of others.

It would be impossible to talk about Disney movies without some mention of Star Wars. In his blog post about Judaism and the Jedi, Rabbi P.J. Schwartz postulates that Star Wars represents the cosmic battle between good and evil and that good – of course – prevails. J.J. Abrams, director of the latest episode – “The Force Awakens” – notes that the story may not be as black and white as it seemed at its origin and the “midrash,” as it is being added, doesn’t always explain things the way we’d like.

As we enter Elul and the season of turning, I am especially intrigued with the notion that even though the dark side may “dominate your destiny,” we are not destined to embrace it forever. No matter how difficult it may be, we can always ward off the evil inclination and “turn to the light.” Isn’t this, in fact, what the month of Elul is about? As the new year approaches, we have a chance to take a serious look inside ourselves and others – to seek out the good, the love, the kindness, and to move closer to them. As you do, may the force be with you!

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