Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52)/ Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/haazinu/english-translation
Another week, another horrifying account of God’s wrathful assault on those who stray from God, doing wrong or not abiding by the laws God set before them. If you were subject to lecture after brash lecture about how you and your ancestors were traitors and what will happen if you ever return to those ways, you may consider yourself to be in an abusive relationship with your lecturer. Abuse is serious. As defined by stoprelationshipabuse.org, “Relationship abuse is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner.” The immediate and natural first response to this accusation would be outright denial. “There is no way that the Israelites were in an abusive relationship with God.” Well, that is the same natural, initial reaction in most abusive relationships. Victims may well not be aware of the nature of their circumstances.
Now, I am not claiming that we worship an abusive God, or even that the relationship I described is the true interpretation of Torah we all should ascribe to. But, in reading this week’s Torah portion and watching this week’s film through the particular theme of “returning,” this potential interpretation popped out to me as somebody who wants very much to increase public understanding of the issue in ways that those who have not experienced it may be able to understand or relate.
Abusive relationships revolve around this notion of returning; returning to particular behaviors and returning to the same emotional states in the relationship. Going from “I love you,” to “you are worthless,” to “I’m sorry, I really love you and I promise to change,” to “you are worthless and need to change,” back to “I’m sorry, please come back, I need you,” and so on and so on. That is the cycle of abuse. The perpetual return to safety and security after being repeatedly sent to despair and devastation. It is continuously returning to your abuser after brief periods of liberation. Throughout Deuteronomy and again in this parsha, we see God dictating to the Israelites that they are God’s chosen people, but if they stray from God, there will be destructive repercussions. Then God will go on to explain that God’s love for God’s people is everlasting and that they should return to God, and if they do, the Israelites will prosper again. That is, unless the Israelites mess up again in which case, God will spite them and the cycle begins again.
Return of the Jedi features several kinds of returns. The first scenes feature the franchise’s return to one of its most famous locations, the desert planet Tatooine. Upon this return, viewers are faced with one of the most vile, despicable creatures in the galaxy, Jabba the Hutt. A slaver among many other things, Jabba is a glaring example of how not to treat people. The women that serve in his court against their will are sexually exploited and objectified as Jabba, and possibly the film’s viewers themselves use these women for visual pleasure. Not all abuse is so glaring and obvious though. The most obvious instance of returning in the film is the titular return of the Jedi.
Is the return of the Jedi a good thing though? Recall as discussed over the past two weeks, that the Jedi Order was destroyed because they had become too tactile and were no longer able to empathize with galactic citizens. Their refusal to recognize that emotion is a natural connection between beings and that while there are immense benefits in their line of work to hiding them from others and detaching themselves emotionally from others, there can only be negative consequences for hiding and detaching from themselves. If the Jedi Order were to return and continue operating under the same failed philosophy, failure again is what should be entirely expected. The casual observer is led on to believe that the return of the Jedi is something to be celebrated and deemed a victory, but that is exactly the way cycles of abuse work.
As we are about to begin another cycle of the Torah, returning to the beginning and embarking on a year long journey to understand its meaning, let us strive to break the cycles that hinder us, bring us down, or tear us apart. This starts with the unbelievably difficult task of recognizing what those cycles are, whether they are abuse, bad habits, or just thought processes. Only with humility can we recognize the cycles we are trapped in and begin to seek the help we need from ourselves or from others. When we make our returns to God, as Hazing explains we eventually will, may we find that the God we have returned to is not the abusive God described before, but is a God of endless love and compassion that will care for us no matter how far we stray. When we return to Deuteronomy again next year, may we not be damaged by the words God speaks to the Israelites, because we know that the cycle of love and devastation described is not a cycle we are bound to. But also, when we return next year to Deuteronomy, may the pain serve as a reminder of what could be if we allow ourselves to become shackled to the cycles in our lives and not not ever strive to be free of them.