B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)/ Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/breishit/english-translation
In the beginning. The beginning of the Torah, the beginning of the world, and the beginning of the Star Wars story as told thus far. Beginnings are the best times to set new goals, to fixate visions, and to just start fresh. With beginnings though, come expectations. Expectations are an inevitable byproduct of the anticipation, excitement, or even dread that come with beginnings. Starting the Torah again comes with heavy expectations. When you read through the entire Torah every single year, it is easy to fall into the expectation trap, closing your mind to the unexpected. The way you have always interpreted the Torah or a piece of Torah may well be the way you continue to interpret this time around.
In this week’s parsha, B’reishit, we find several instances of expectation. The first instance begins as God instructs Adam and Eve that they may eat any fruit they so choose, except for the fruit of the Tree of All Knowledge. God expects that Adam and Eve will heed these instructions. Whether it is because God simply expects God’s creation to revere God’s every word, or because God simply does not see any reason not to trust Adam or Eve, God was steadfast in the expectation that they would obey. It is perhaps because of this expectation, this self-imposed barrier to a plurality of possibilities, that a serpent is able to convince Eve to eat the fruit anyway. There are of course countless explanations that could be given for why this series of events played out like it did, but one I would like to suggest is that God was simply blinded by expectation and as such, did not set up additional safeguards against eating the fruit, or more deeply instilling in Adam and Even not to be tempted by snakes. And the serpent? The serpent expected that God would not in fact kill Eve for eating that fruit. And Eve expected that the serpent would not lie to her and thus expected the same.
Of course, God could also have expected from the very beginning that Adam or Eve would succumb to the allure of the fruit of the Tree of All Knowledge and eat it in spite of God’s warnings. It could have been God’s intention all along. Whether we choose to believe the first interpretation or the second, or both, or neither, expectations are a powerful, dangerous inevitability we have to consciously fight.
When Star Wars was set to begin a new prequel trilogy, expectations were wild. As the films came out and the were blasted by fans and critics alike, new expectations were born for any viewer who has not yet seen these films and is aware of the widespread and popular distain towards them. Viewers not only expect to hate the films, but it is a popularly held expectation that if you make a crack about the prequel movies or Jar Jar Binks, one of the most, if not the most, divisive characters in Star Wars, that everyone else will follow suite with jabs and jeers of their own.
Qui-Gon Ginn, Master Jedi and main character of this week’s film literally bets his and everyone under his protection’s lives on an expectation. Upon meeting a young Anakin Skywalker and sensing within him a great connection to the Force, Qui-Gon solidifies an expectation that his gamble will be successful. He goes on later to approve Queen Amidala of the Naboo’s battle plans because he expects that they can and will be successful. While the Jedi Master may be able to sense the future and set his expectations as such, in neither scenario does Qui-Gon know with certainty the process it will take to reach his expectations, nor the the consequences of the particular actions along the way, but nonetheless he holds those expectations strong.
In the film and in the Torah, understanding the notion of expectations has a bit of a challenge. The Force, being something that we cannot and may never fully understand, plays an integral role in the decision making processes and actions of the characters. The very same could be said about God. The “will of the Force” is as common a phrase in Star Wars as “God’s will” is to the Torah. We cannot know for certain what is truly predetermined by “the will.” or is the direct results of individual actions. There is no need to settle the argument of free will or determination here because, with regards to expectations, either could apply. If we subscribe to the notion of free will, we can read events in the Torah or Star Wars as direct results of other actions. God or the Force may or may not be involved in the exact result of those actions, but there is no determined end that all results must inevitably lead to. Thus, we are free to set expectations for what in particular the end result of an action or series of actions will be. Should we subscribe to determinism, it would mean to believe that God or the Force or nature itself has set a specific and unchangeable inevitable end result to an action or set of actions. In such a model, whether we are privy to that inevitable end or not, we will still set up expectations about how we or others may react to the end result and all along the way.
So what does this all mean? Well on one level, it means that no matter how we choose to interpret any given text, we can still find ways to apply our themes. Free will and determinism believers alike, and generally just any way readers choose to intemperate texts, you can find ample examples of expectation, hope, humility, or any theme in any text. On a deeper level, this reality means that we all hold expectations, and now that we can recognize that, we can be careful how we craft these expectations and how we let them affect us. Whether we naturally tend towards setting immediate or long-term expectations, it is important to be cognizant of them. Expectations are not inherently bad, but they often can cloud our perceptions of reality and lead us to negative places. It is easy to become slaves to our expectations, becoming unwilling or unable to see alternate possibilities and then enduring the emotional consequences of expectations being fulfilled or not. By consciously assuring our expectations never get in the way of our actions or our emotions, we can be more in control of our lives.
The sort of expectations viewers of Phantom Menace hold of the film and its characters and of how others will feel about them too are dangerous and detrimental to both the viewer and those they are interacting with while exerting those expectations. They not only set the viewer up for judging the film differently and more negatively than they otherwise might have, but the expectation of how others will act means they are forcing their negativity onto other’s perceptions and enjoyment. The same is true of God expecting Adam, Eve, or the serpent will act in certain ways. It only served to effect Adam and Eve negatively. The determinist track that assumes God had that plan all along or that Qui-Gon knew Anakin and Amidala would be successful amass enormous risk. Adam and Eve saw their nakedness, which could be argued set humans down a dangerous path, and countless Naboo and Gungan lives were lost in defending the planet. No matter what kind of expectations we have, we must observe and think about them in order to make sure they are not endangering ourselves or others. Expectations can be exciting and positive, but we simply cannot go about assuming that they always will be or that we understand the repercussions of our expectations.