Friday, October 14, 2005

Column: Ushpizin

Read a blurb like this on the movie “Ushpizin” and you might ask yourself why you should see it all:

“In the customarily closed world of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Moshe and Malli, a married couple, are suffering through a financial crisis. They pray for help, but instead of a miracle two suspect strangers with criminal pasts appear on their doorstep.”

Ignore this and the reviews (I read one by Le Apprenti) as well.

Instead, listen to me and hear a bit about the depth of this movie and how it speaks to each and every one of us.

As I understand it, the old criminal friends (they are not strangers) that show up, Eliyahu and Yoseph, represent beautifully one of the major obstacles, and in fact the first one that everyone faces, in learning how to pour out ones heart to Hashem – (see “Outpouring of the Soul” by Aryeh Kaplan). That obstacle is the inner voice that says, “Who do you think you are to talk to G-d?” That question seems reasonable and correctly humble and brings most of us to answer, “It’s hopeless.”

But that answer is wrong. In truth, Rabbi Nachman tells us, the question is merely an obstacle and a test to keep us from drawing near to Hashem. It is false humility that comes to tempt us to despair from being heard by the Almighty -- a powerful obstacle that is difficult to overcome if one lacks the knowledge to ignore it, trust in the great mercy of G-d, and speak to Him.

Overcoming this temptation (as per Rabbi Nachman’s advice) is the major theme of the film. Eliyahu and Yoseph represent the physical manifestation of that question -- that obstacle. Moshe, who desperately wants to have a child, purchases an etrog for a great sum of money, showing his faith in G-d that he would be rewarded for this effort with a child by his wife Malli. What happens? Eliyahu and Yoseph show up and remind him of what he used to be before he gave up his criminal ways – but more than that – they tell him that they know who he really is behind what they see as a charade. They succeed in bringing him to doubt that he really has changed, that he has any real connection with and hope in Hashem, and they succeed in bringing him to anger and nearly to violence -- which they remind him are at the very heart of his “true nature.”

But Moshe catches himself and is not brought down by his guests. Reaching deep inside to the place where the very essence of his most essential nature is being questioned and tested, he screams out to Hashem with all his heart for help and faith and miracles -- and he is answered – restoring his faith in himself and in Hashem.

Later, Moshe and Malli are blessed with a son and Eliyahu and Yoseph, in the last scene,at the brit milah, show that they also have been touched in a deep way as they recognize that Moshe truly is a changed man and that Hashem has indeed heard his prayers and blessed him as a reward for his faith. One even gets the sense as the film ends that their restored friendship with Moshe may very well be a new beginning for them.

Some of you may recall that I wrote briefly about the film a week ago and then switched subjects to talk about an essay by John Fonte, called “The Ideological War Within the West.”

There I wrote about how in explaining a term that is key to his piece, transnational progressivism, Fonte identifies eight characteristic key concepts. One of them is “Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols of democratic nation-states in the West.” I noted that this concept is of particular interest to us because it speaks of what is happening in Israel as an example:

“In Israel, a "post-Zionist" intelligentsia has proposed that Israel consider itself multicultural and deconstruct its identity as a Jewish state. Even Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres sounded the post-Zionist trumpet in his 1993 book, in which he deemphasized "sovereignty" and called for regional "elected central bodies," a type of Middle Eastern EU.”

I go back to this now because of the critique of my last week’s piece by a good friend of mine who is an anthropologist. He said that he liked my piece but that I should have tied the two parts together – that is the part where I briefly discuss the film and the part where I shift to Fonte and the threat of transnational progressivism to the nation-state. I was confused. “What do you mean?” I asked. “You could have shown how the life and culture so well expressed in the film is within the crosshairs of the post-Zionists – and what a loss it would be if in the name of some utopian transnational dream a culture as rich as this would be lost.” How right he was.

Chag Samayach!


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