Holy Star Wars!

Holy Star Wars!

After almost a month of sacred readings of Star Wars, I have been thinking a lot about how to ensure that my writings are as accessible to a...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Gilgamesh/ The Clone Wars


The Epic of Gilgamesh

       The gods had sent a Great Flood to destroy the world. Now that civilizations have begun anew, Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, has become the most powerful, though cruel, ruler in the world.
       The gods heard the people of Uruk’s pleas and created an equal to Gilgamesh in the wild-man Enkidu. 
       With a new great friend at his side, Gilgamesh is certain he can vanquish any foe. But, when Enkidu falls ill, Gilgamesh finds himself on a journey—physically and emotionally—he never expected…

The Clone Wars

       A galaxy divided! Striking swiftly after the Battle of Geonosis, Count Dooku’s droid army has     seized control of the major hyperspace lanes, separating the Republic from the majority of its clone army.
       With few clones available, the Jedi generals cannot gain a foothold on the Outer Rim as more and more planets choose to join Dooku's Separatists. While the Jedi are occupied fighting a war, no one is left to keep the peace. 
       Chaos and crime spread and the innocent become victims in a lawless galaxy. Crime lord Jabba the Hutt's son has been kidnapped by a rival band of pirates. Desperate to save his son, Jabba puts out a call for help—a call the Jedi are cautious to answer…


Our legacy is what succeeding generations will remember us by. Whether they are legacies forged by our own inscriptions or imposed upon us by our posterity, they are how we might live on long after we ourselves are gone. Some legacies are physical, tangible testaments to our lives, while others are passed down as lessons to be learned and applied by the recipients as they see fit or are able. Regardless of the kind of legacy, positive or negative, tangible or intangible, we will have one day have one.

The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a dastardly king and his eventual run-in with mortality, upon which he for the first time must question what kind of legacy he hopes to bear. Gilgamesh began as a cruel king in Uruk, absolutely abusing his subjects to the point that even they themselves were compelled to pray to their gods that their wrongs be accounted for. In response, Enkidu was created as Gilgamesh’s equal. Enkidu did not necessarily convince Gilgamesh to change his ways, but he did soften Gilgamesh’s heart enough to befriend him, which would eventually lead him on a path towards change.

The Clone Wars film was the first step in fleshing out dozens of characters and introducing many more, helping us better understand what legacy many characters left to the Galaxy after they were gone. This film introduces Ahsoka Tano, a padawan learner assigned to not-yet-Jedi-Master Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka will go on to become one of the most important characters in the lore. The lineage of masters and padawans that Ahsoka and Anakin belong to is dynamic and unconventional, not to mention tragic. Ahsoka was trained by Anakin, a Jedi who broke nearly all tenants of his order, especially the forbiddance of amorous relationships, and would eventually become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Anakin was trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who himself was not necessarily a rogue Jedi, but he certainly allowed for Anakin’s mid-mission antics, and was trained by Qui-Gon Jin, a Jedi known for his disagreements with the ways of the Jedi Council and their ever-subtle movement away from what he believed were its values. Qui-Gon was apprenticed to Count Dooku, the very defector fought throughout the film and separatist leader who himself was a Sith. But Dooku’s betrayal was not before training under the master of all Jedi, Yoda, head of the Jedi Council and perhaps the most powerful Jedi ever known. Each of these Jedi were shaped by the legacies of their masters, just as their trainees were shaped by their own legacies. Not only are each shaped by the actual training received or given, but the clout of their very associations.

Qui-Gob’s legacy was most obvious. His mastery of the balance between the Living and Cosmic Force allowed him and eventually Yoda and Obi-Wan to commune with other Jedi, especially Luke Skywalker, even in death. Master he may have been, but Yoda was forever marred, even if more internally than anything else, by the legacy of his padawan. The very same was true of Obi-Wan with regards to Anakin after his transformation into Darth Vader. Yet, Ahsoka was effected by Anakin’s legacy in an entirely different way. She had presumed Anakin dead after most of the Jedi were killed by Order 66 and only remembered him as the passionate and righteous Jedi she trained under. As such, her perception of his legacy was a driving factor in her participation in the onset of the Rebellion during the Galactic Civil War. Legacies, like most everything, are a matter of perspective. For some, Anakin has a positive legacy, while for others, he had a horrendous one.

Gilgamesh’s legacy suffered the same subjectivity. Prior to setting off on his great journey with Enkidu, Gilgamesh was hated by all of his subjects. Even after he left, it would be hard to imagine those he charged in his stead with power assuaged Uruk’s people of their hatred. But, Gilgamesh went on a long and life-changing journey that eventually did make him conscious of his legacy and how he was shaping it.

The reason the gods created Enkidu in the first place was as a response to Uruk’s pleas to be spared of Gilgamesh’s evils. Their cry for help was not answered by having Gilgamesh’s ways change. Their cry was answered by having Gilgamesh remove himself from direct power. It was not until the gods had Enkidu die of an incurable disease that the actual journey towards self-awareness began. Engulfed with (selfishly directed) grief, Gilgamesh began to seek the source of immortality. After being denied immortality and having the next-best-thing literally stolen from him by a snake, Gilgamesh finally conceded to return home. It was finally upon his massive losses and gazing upon his city that he came to realize he did not need physical immortality to live forever. He needed only for his legacy to live on through the greatness of Uruk. In this coming to peace, Gilgamesh was able to spend the rest of his life working towards the kind of legacy he desired. Whether this legacy inevitably wrought a foundation for Uruk to one day reach the kind of greatness that Gilgamesh himself never could deliver is a question lost to history. Nonetheless, it is the very question that legacies beg of us all. Will what we leave behind be interpreted and used in such a way that regardless of how I was seen in my own life, my greatest attributes will allow for those beyond to be great and greater? For most who lived under Gilgamesh’s grip, they would never be able to forgive him for his evils. Perhaps though history would absolve Gilgamesh for the greatness he might have set his people up to achieve.

My favorite quote from The Clone Wars that best summarizes the idea of legacy comes when Ahsoka is boasting to some clone troopers about her first victory in battle. Captain Rex asks Anakin, “Is that true, sir?” And Anakin simply replies, “Well most of it.” Anakin is in a position of power over Ahsoka’s legacy. He could intervene and shoot down the way in which the clones regard her, or she can allow the clones to go on listening to Ahsoka tell her story. A story that may well be passed all around the ranks and instantaneously begin mold Ahsoka’s legacy to beyond just the interactions she has, but to the very emotions, memories, and responses people have to the idea of Ahsoka and the content of the story being shared.

Next time:

In a lead up to the release of Rogue One, on Thursday I am going to explore Tarkin by James Luceno and a parable from the Christian Bible through the theme of "Belonging."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Holy Star Wars!

After almost a month of sacred readings of Star Wars, I have been thinking a lot about how to ensure that my writings are as accessible to as many people as possible. Writing solely about Star Wars and Torah admittedly limits my potential audience significantly. So, today I am starting Mk. II of my Star Wars sacred reading endeavor:

The goal is the same: read Star Wars through a particular theme in order to gain deeper insight into the text itself and into the theme so that we can come away with calls to action for our own lives. What is new will be what the coupled texts will be. Every Sunday I will still strive to publish a post that explores the weekly Torah portion, and now as I start to venture into the other mediums of storytelling Star Wars has to offer (TV, books, and comics), I will also be venturing into the sacred texts of other religions. I firmly believe that by coupling the Star Wars texts with other, more traditional texts, the comparative reading that occurs allows for far greater insights into either text and the theme than would be possible with reading just one or the other independently. So, my goal is to release at least one more, if not two more posts a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays that explore those different Star Wars mediums alongside the sacred texts of other religions and cultures. This will most often include the Christian Bible as well as the Qur'an, but will also include sacred stories ranging from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Greek Mythology, to the sacred stories from fictional worlds, such as Vulcans and Klingons, or Tolkien's Elves. Hopefully, through a diversity of sacred texts as well as a diversity of Star Wars, we will have more opportunity than ever to explore deep themes and the stories we love.

I couldn't decide on the color scheme for the new logo, so bellow is the alternate version. Still playing around with it altogether.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Vayeira (Gen. 18:1-22:24)/ Episode VII: The Force Awakens


Shame is a state we find ourselves in, whether we are aware or not, when we have committed morally deplorable actions. Morality, of course, is an entirely subjective device for easily categorizing right and wrong. When we find ourselves in a state of shame, because morality is subjective, that shame may be a cognizant shame just as well as it may be a shame applied from others. Regardless of the source of the shame, shame has a detrimental effect on the shamed. Shame is also a tool used in order to manipulate. We all have the power to impose our ideas of morality onto others and render them ashamed, whether in their own eyes or not they recognize their state as such.

There are several stories of shame in this portion, but the most devastating of all is the story of Lot and his two daughters. Lot was Abraham’s nephew that had lived in Sodom before God destroyed it. God spared Lot because God recognized Lot as the only righteous man in the city, in spite of his offering his daughters like property to a horde of angry men as a means of attempting to protect the strangers he was hosting. It is of course requisite that we understand that the characters in the Torah operated by the morals of their day, but even so, to not utilize our modern sensibilities when analyzing these stories would be a great disservice to the depth of our analyses. Upon fleeing Sodom, Lot and his two daughters proceeded to live in a cave secluded from the rest of the world. In this isolation, Lot’s daughters were led to believe they were the last people left living. They were also led to believe it was their duties as women to procreate. So the elder daughter devised a plan to get their father drunk and to bear his child in order to fulfill their responsibilities.

The easy analysis of this scenario is to enforce shame on Lot’s daughters for being so vile as to trick their father into lying with them. This shaming, however, is a horrendous abuse of the power to shame. It is too easy to place shame on those with less power, as women too often are, who commit what we consider shameful acts. Of course drugging and sleeping with your father is abhorrent. But Is it not more abhorrent to lead your children to believe there is no life beyond the dark cave you have relegated them too? Is it not more abhorrent still to raise children to believe their greatest purposes in life are to bear children? As free-willed organisms, compliance is not an excuse, but to charge the daughters too heavily is to blame the victims of a man’s wrongdoing. Lot is far more deserving of shame than his daughters, but even so, we have to be extraordinarily cautious before delivering shame onto anybody.

General Leia Organa and her twin brother Luke Skywalker exhibit the other form of shame throughout The Force Awakens. In the time between Episodes VI and VII, Leia and Han Solo had a son named Ben. Ben was extremely strong in the Force, as his family has been now for multiple generations, but he was also a deeply troubled teenager. Torn between the heroic legacy of his parents and uncle and the enormous scorn of his grandfather, Darth Vader, he fell easy victim to the influence of a dark figure named Snoke. Leia and Han, fearing they might lose their child forever if they did not send him away to train as a Jedi with Luke, made a decision that would haunt them forever. Ben joined a group known as the Knights of Ren, slaughtered everyone in Luke’s school, and became the most fearsome destructive force in the Galaxy. Throughout this horrendous time, Leia and Luke put none of the shame on Ben for the atrocities he commits. Instead, they place all of the shame on themselves for the poor parenting and mentoring they believe led Ben down that path.

The trouble with shame is that it is rarely placed properly, and even when it seemingly is, the negative externalities that ensue may well outweigh the positive. Shame is so fickle, knocking people down instead of building them up. Feeling ashamed, even when you feel it is most righteous, does nothing to alleviate the reason you feel ashamed in the first place. Whether the shame is like Luke and Leia’s where they feel compelled to shame themselves for the terrible action of another, or like Lot’s daughters where it is too easy to shame the most apparent wrongdoer when there truly was a deeper explanation, shame is rendered less as a tool for positive change and more as a fuel for a negative and dangerous cycle.

The cycle of shaming is permeating our post-election society in a very real way. Supporters of both sides are placing shame on supporters of the other for the decisions they made and the reasons why they made the. Just as well, many are shaming themselves and their own kind for bringing about the circumstances that lead to the election’s results. Shame is such a challenge in this situation. There should absolutely be an enormous shame placed on any and all that espouse hatred and incite violence over the rhetoric and result of the election and all of the decisions and policies made as results. People are also more than welcome to feel ashamed of themselves for not doing more or doing the right things to help bring about the circumstances they would more have preferred to see, regardless of their party affiliation. Yet, what use does shame have? Will those being shamed publicly over and over for the horrendous things they do and say ever be made to change their ways because of mere shaming? Will the self-imposed sense of shame drive people to take more and stronger actions beginning now and going into the future?

Shame is natural and in so many ways, necessary for the moral steering of human actions. Yet alone, it is too unlikely to be enough to bring about the attitudinal or policy changes we hope for them too. Shame is a starting point, an opportunity to recognize and express the ways we feel. We cannot allow it to be the end, lest we are trapped in a cycle of shaming others, shaming ourselves, and being shamed by others until nobody agrees and everybody ceases to communicate out of the shame felt all around.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Greatness Pt. 2

Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)/ Episode III: Revenge of the Sith PART 1
Translation from http://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.12.2?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

Greatness Pt. 2

Anakin Skywalker thought he was the greatest Jedi who ever lived. He thought Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was the greatest politician. These delusions of greatness rendered Anakin, the Chancellor, and the entirety Jedi Orders and Galactic Senate blind to the evils they were part of and surrounded by. Palpatine, in his capacities both as the Sith Lord Sidious and as the elected Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate intentionally orchestrated a pan-galactic war in order to garner more and more power. Anakin murdered innocent men, women, and children in a passionate rage. The Jedi became the very evil they sought to protect the galaxy from by becoming a war machine churning out destruction and resentment in the name of peace and security. And the senate willingly empowered a single man they trusted infallibly to not only lead them but to eventually relinquish the power he never would.

They all thought themselves great. And, they all thought they were working towards creating and maintaining something great. What then is the difference between Abram’s quest for greatness, or even the Jedi Order or the Galactic Senate’s quests for greatness, and the obsession with greatness Anakin and Palpatine sought? Why does history revere the former and shun the latter? It begins with their motives.

Acting in ways that we as subjective observers would regard as inexplicably immoral may well have been committed, in the eyes of that actor, out of a sense of preservation not only of self but for love and care for others. A distinction has to be drawn between the actions we deem immoral because we disagree with them and the actions we deem immoral because they are grounded in hatred or are intentionally harmful to others. We also must remember these intentions are not mutually exclusive. Both can exist at the same time, and either one could well exist without the other.

A deeply disturbing but undeniably true fact of life is that our world has been shaped by the byproducts of atrocities. There is absolutely no denying that whether we are talking about the Jewish people, the Jedi Order, or our own United States, there were inexcusable atrocities committed by dehumanization and a willingness to sacrifice the othered in order for the hegemony to gain. We do not have to be okay with this and we do not have to forgive it. In fact, we should not. George Washington owned slaves and passed numerous laws protecting slave owners. Abraham owned slaves and sold his own wife in exchange for some. Still, today, the leaders of our country commit horrible, unforgivable acts. History has redeemed Abraham and our founding fathers because the sum of their lives amounted to an opportunity for us to achieve a greatness that does not excuse their personal demons, but forces us to be grateful for what they have given us. We have no choice but to recognize their actions are what brought us to this day, and we are morally obliged to cringe and the fact that we must in the face of the inhumanity these men acted with. Even when we see Anakin Skywalker’s redemption as he joins Luke in ending the Emperor and the Empire in Return of the Jedi are many of us deeply troubled. We cannot forget the atrocities he committed, but we are again, forced to accept that without his contributions, the galaxy could not have been set on a path where greatness would have been possible. How are we meant to feel when our forefathers are such harrowingly divisive and morally translucent and sometimes even oblique figures?

We now more than ever have the horrifying job of accepting, or at least being aware that the pursuit of safety and security for oneself and loved ones is often fraught with putting down and damaging others, and balance that with the necessity to absolutely condemn in the strongest terms any time one's opinion is laced with anger and expressed in hatred and violence, physical or otherwise. If we cannot accept this reality, after the appropriate emotional distress is accounted for, we will be paralyzed by the anger this reality breeds. If we refuse to engage with those whom we disagree, let alone hate, we will inevitably retreat from the same kind of empathy for others the Jedi retreated from before their demise. We are in this struggle reminded of what it means to return, as there is a terrible cycle where hatred leads to fear by the hated for the hatred, that fear leads to anger, and that anger again to hatred by the hated towards the hater. And from there the cycle begins again. It is as Master Yoda teaches. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Preventing oneself from falling into this cycle requires humility and distance. It requires first the humility to be aware of our own evil and of our own hatred. “Just doing my job” or “protecting my family” are not excuses we can validate. Then, it is necessary to observe and understand the way we are being made to feel by others. This requires a distancing of those feelings from their source in order to better understand why the source of those feelings is causing you to feel so. In so doing, you may discover that the inexcusable acts of hatred being committed towards you are being committed out of fear. Knowing this about others means we are responsible for breaking the cycle of hatred and not succumbing to it ourselves. If we could somehow manage to empathize with even our enemies, we could prevent the kind of destruction of society the Jedi never could. It is only through difficult and painful dialogue that we can possibly break this cycle of hatred, especially on a larger scale.

When we can somehow find the strength to recognize concurrently the hate-imbued in the actions and rhetoric of others, as well as the deeper reasons for why they are set on the paths they are, we will be able to distinguish who should be regarded as pure evil, and who should be regarded as the un-discardable evil we are cursed to live with; the ones that have set a path before us to achieve the greatness their delusions could never have allowed them to. It is too late for those who have sinned so badly to be great; tarnished forever their names will be. It is not too late for the rest of us to rectify their wrongs and keep moving forward. What makes a great nation? What makes a great name? Greatness comes from righting the wrongs that have been made, protecting those who were wronged from ever being harmed again, and preventing others from being harmed in the future. While evil actions may not always be born of evil intentions, no amount of evil for any reason can be stood for. It takes both introspection and awareness to recognize evil. It requires far less to take actions against it once observed.

A final point. One of the concluding scenes of Episode III is Padmé's funeral. During the procession of the open casket, there is a quick shot of a young girl.
Padmé's funeral symbolizes the ultimate loss of innocence and peaceful order in the galaxy. This young girl bears no expression of hopelessness. She gives no apparent regard for the gravity of the event in which she is in attendance. At that is the very point. With the collapse of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, an entirely new generation will be made to grow up having never known the better life that came before. This impressionable young girl, who has known only war her entire life thus far, is the one with whom the galaxy's destiny will stand. She knows nothing of Jedi nor Sith, cares not for finding balance in the Force. Her only prerogative is to survive. She lives on Naboo, the home planet of Emperor Palpatine and will be raised into a comfortable life, shielded, whether she knows it or not, from so much of the suffering that surrounds her. Will she grow up to value the greatness of defending herself and her own in submission to the Empire's will and ways? Or, will she grow up to join the Rebellion, implicitly or explicitly, divining greatness from the defense of the defenseless throughout the galaxy. Whichever she chooses will be a product of her life's circumstances. No blame could be placed on her whichever path she chooses. All the galaxy can do is try to raise her with values of justice and love and hope she picks the path towards true greatness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Greatness Pt. 1

Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)/ Episode III: Revenge of the Sith PART 1
Translation from http://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.12.2?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

Greatness Pt. 1

“The LORD said to Abram…/ ‘I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing./ I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.’ ” (Gen 12:1-3). A great nation and a great name. What makes a nation great? What makes a name great? And why does greatness have to come with such a heavy price for anybody who does not recognize that greatness?

Later in this week's portion, there is a scene where Abram and his wife Sarai are already settled in Canaan, the promised land where God had instructed them to go and settle, but a great famine strikes and they are forced to go to Egypt in search of food. Here he concocts a plan to trick the Pharaoh into providing them food whereby Abram has to pretend his wife is actually his sister in order to trick the Pharaoh into marrying Sarai. Aside from the troubling nature of the deal itself, which is quite troubling, the most horrendous aspect of this deal is that for his wife's marriage to the Pharaoh, Abram received an enormous dowry. Abram, the father of our people, sold his wife to the Pharaoh of Egypt to feed himself and the rest of his camp. It was only by the grace of God that Pharaoh reneged on his agreement with Abram and returned Sarai to him without demanding his dowry back.

The way I am choosing to interoperate this story is that Abram, knowing in full that his wife could not conceive, saw her as disposable and not integral to fulfilling the mission God bestowed upon him. Sarai was not consulted about the exchange, she was simply objectified and sold off like the slaves Abram would receive from Pharaoh in return. Our first bout of wealth as a people was based on a ruse, a dirty deal, and a great shame. Is this the foundation of a great nation? Is this the foundation of a great name?

Farther on we read a story of a great war that resulted in the eventual kidnapping and ransacking of Abram’s nephew Lot and his tribe. As retribution for these actions, Abram immediately commits to amassing an army and invading the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot and his people had been dwelling. Abram vanquished these foes with no remorse and not a thought towards diplomacy. Power and retribution. Are these the qualities of a great nation and a great name? The story concludes when the King of Sodom give Abram permission to keep some of the spoils of war and Abram rejects it, wanting only to bask in the redemption he feels in his victory and not to give the King of Sodom any power over him. He wants to move on from the war and not allow its repercussions to linger. Does this noble act compensate for the destruction that was wrought in order to reach it? Does this act of humility make for greatness?

Abram, who has his name changed to Abraham as this parsha closes, will go on to commit numerous more morally vague acts in his life. He bore a child with a servant of his and cast them both out into the wilderness, he nearly sacrifices his own son, and he bargains with God in order to try to save the wicked denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, in spite of his personal history with them. So how is it that such a deeply flawed man, who has committed so many, good, terrible, and morally questionable acts can come to be the forefather of a great nation and a great name? It is because greatness is not born of a single man. Greatness is the sum of all of the Hebrews and all of the Israelites and all of the Jewish people and the greatness that together they can create. Abraham’s flaws were great and the stories of the founding of our nation are filed with troubling morality. But what is unquestionable is his commitment to the cause of greatness.

Abraham may have made many mistakes that should be illuminated and left unjustified, and so is the story of our own nation Western nations. There can be no forgiveness, rationalization, or even praise for utilizing the tactics Abraham did to give the Jewish people a chance at greatness, and yet we must recognize these atrocities for what they are and achieve greatness through how we rectify and triumph over the injustices they caused on our path there. Our history in the United States, just as with Abraham, was build on a foundation of slavery, genocide, and the profits of war. These are not crimes that should ever be brushed off as history, but rather calls to action on how to progress from there.

Let us be grateful to our forefathers for the opportunity to achieve greatness they provided us with, but never forget the sins they perpetrated on our behalves. Let us not succumb to the same evils in our time that they thought were necessary then. This chance for greatness required the sacrifices of so many, and the onus is upon us not to put that sacrifice to waste. What makes a great nation and a great name is the sum of us all. Abram and God set our path into motion. It is our job now to bring us to greatness.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)/ Episode V: Empire Strikes Back


When the rain stopped and Noah sent out the dove to find dry land, they were not able to just disembark. It took time for the water to start to recede after the rain had stopped. Then Noah had to wait for the waters to keep receding before the ark settled atop a mountain. And from there he continued to wait while the waters kept receding. He finally was able to send out a raven to search for dry land but to no success. He sent a dove to do the same with similar results. He waited again before sending a dove a second time before it returned with an olive branch, and he waited once more before sending out a third dove that never returned. Only then did Noah and the other inhabitants of the ark finally disembark and finally stand on dry land themselves. Patience was the key. Being cramped up on a wooden boat filled with smelly and also cramped up animals could not have been pleasant, but Noah persisted in his waiting nonetheless until he was certain there would be a dry world to return to once the ark’s doors were opened.

When Luke arrives on Dagobah to find the last remaining know Jedi master Yoda, he is first met by a whimsical, old creature. Yoda acts nothing like the wise and pithy teacher we know him to be in the first moments of meeting Luke. He is testing a very particular virtue in the hopeful padawan: patience. In fact, the way Yoda is acting is retrospectively reminiscent of the way a particular gungan we discussed last week acts. Jar Jar Binks could be considered having been one of the most tragic creatures in the entire galaxy. Already plagued by clumsiness and a graceless yet loving means of interacting with others, Jar Jar sealed his fate in Episode II when he gave the rousing speech that encouraged the vote for the Emergency Powers Act, which gave Supreme Chancellor Palpatine the absolute authority he held during the Clone Wars and ultimately that allowed his rapid ascension to emperor. Deeply flawed and widely seen as a great scourge in the fiction and to its fans, Yoda emulated this juvenile soul as he ate Luke's food and stumbled through his belongings uninvited. Of course, viewers of the film originally had no means of making this connection, but fortunately, we today have the context with which to make more connections and delve deeper than ever before.

Luke's test is whether or not he can find himself capable of acting with patience towards even the lowest of the galaxy's creatures, and it should be our test too. We need to take the time to step back and examine our judgements. We may sit back and find that Jar Jar, or anybody in our lives, are truly vile and that they are deserving of our negative sentiment. We might also step back though, and find that our judgments were misguided or unfounded. We have no reason to believe Jar Jar acted with malice at any point in his life, only foolishness. Foolishness should be forgivable. Patience is an asset that allows all of us to cast aside haste and to make judgements based far more on facts than on emotions.

Noah’s patience is simple but excruciating. If Noah can muster the strength to endure staying on his ark, we can all have the patience to wait before making judgements on other people. This extends so far beyond just the case of Jar Jar and the toxicity of senseless hatred for him amongst Star Wars fans. Too often in our lives do we snap to conclusions about things upon our first interactions. There is an assumption in political science called Rational Actor Model that operates with the conclusion that every human acts in what they believe is their own best interest. The two operative terms here are “they believe,” and “best self interest.” What this means is that no matter how somebody acts, it is because they think it is the best of all possible, perceivable options for themselves. A decision that somebody makes that you cannot possibly fathom how it is in that person’s best self-interest must be under this model. Even seemingly self-less acts fall under that model in that the they believe the satisfaction or future opportunities created by that selfless act outweighs the gain of some more selfish act. Assuming this model is true, which while maybe a dismal view of the world, is far from inconceivable, the onus is on us to put ourselves in a space where we can cease our initial judgements in order to make true evaluations of why people are acting in the way they are acting. If we can better come to understand why people make the actions they do, we may continue to entirely disagree with them, but through our patience and understanding, we may find ourselves more able to respect that individual regardless of their decisions and engage in more meaningful conversations about these differences in opinion.

Be like Noah. Do not wait for the dove that returns. Wait for the dove that never does. Be patient towards Jar Jar. He is one of the most tragically flawed characters in all of film history, and for this he deserves our love, not hatred. The way we regard others not only affects us, but it affects them. May we have the patience to be loving as often as we can and reserve disdain and negativity for when we can determine it is truly deserved.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)/ Episode II: Attack of the Clones


Distance might refer to physical space, and it might refer to emotional separation, and this week’s Torah portion and Star Wars film are full of each. Imagine a room with a wall splitting it down the middle. Two people enter the room, one on each side, and speak to each other on the phone. With no way of knowing the person on the other end of the phone from them is right beyond the wall, the mere fact they are speaking via telephone makes the two feel like there must be a distance between them. If suddenly, in the middle of their conversation, the wall was removed, the feeling of distance would instantly dissipate.

God destroyed the wicked creatures of the earth with a massive flood, and upon the drying of the earth, God promises that never again will a flood devastate the earth. The covenant made that day signified a distance being established between God and the earth. No longer would God interfere in the ongoings of the earth in such a direct way. But, to assure the creatures of the earth that the distance created was not too great such that God would no longer care for the earth’s ongoings, God would set a rainbow in the sky as a symbol. Far away, but still close enough to know God is there somewhere, even if we do not know exactly where.

Jedi are taught not to become emotionally attached to others so that emotions cannot control their actions. Of course, Anakin Skywalker believes that he is above dogma and that he will be able to control his emotions and not have them control him. Anakin of course, has no understanding of what it means to be in control of one’s own emotions. His romantic pursuit of now Senator Padmé Amidala is one of just many examples of this inability, and it is this inability to maintain the proper balance of physical and emotional distance. As I have written before, the Jedi order ultimately crumbled because of its lack of empathy with the galactic citizens it was sworn to protect. Their lack of empathy as an order does not excuse Anakin’s insubordination and his secret affair with the Senator. Jedi are forbidden to have intimate relationships because love distracts, love blinds, and love compromises. For ordinary beings, these are all par for the course of life. For a powerful, Force wielding protector of the galaxy, these are enormous hazards for job performance. This is by no means to say that no Jedi might have the emotional fortitude and ideological rigor to maintain a romantic relationship, but this film is surely proof that Anakin is not one of those Jedi. A certain level of personal affection towards Padmé may have been one, and should be expected given their history, but Anakin’s lack of discipline in establishing a distance with the former queen was an instrumental part of his eventual corruption downfall.

Some people in the land of Shinar too had two challenging run ins with distance in Parashat Noach. The first run in was in a physical way. In the first verse of chapter nine of the Genesis, God instructs humanity to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Instead of being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth, some people decided to “build a city… and not be scattered over all the earth,” (Gen. 11:4) These people directly defied God’s instructions by settling in one place and building a city. This was distance strike one. In this city the people began the construction of a great tower designed to reach up to God in the heavens, with which this tower came the second and final strike, one more a result of a lack of a much less physical kind of distance. The stated reason for building this tower was to “make a name for ourselves,” (Gen. 11:4). God did not like this arrogance and did not like this selfish act. By not distancing their personal desires from the explicit instructions of God, not only the constructors of this tower, but all of humanity forever were punished by having their languages separated to disallow easy communication and humble their arrogance, and they were physically scattered. These two transgressions, challenges against God’s desired great physical and emotional distance from one another.

It is interesting how each of these literatures not only call for a massive distancing, but show horrible consequences as a failure to do so. Should we take this to mean we should all strive towards distancing ourselves from one another, physically and emotionally? Well, in next week’s Torah portion and in virtually every other portion in the Torah, we observe God making an exception to this apparent rule of distancing. God begins to choose specific individuals, beginning with Abraham and carrying on for generations through the profits, to have significantly less distance with. In these relationships, God communicates with and sometimes even goes as far as to interact with these specifically chosen individuals. And the question then becomes why did God choose to reduce the distance with certain individuals? I think the answer may lie in understanding the Jedi’s distance issue.

The Jedi on a personal level need to keep a certain distance in order not to have their judgements clouded, but on a larger level, they cannot distance themselves too greatly or else they will have no understanding of how to best serve the people they are sworn to. God engages in the opposite practice, keeping a fair distance on that larger level in order to keep humanity humble. We are encouraged to strive towards an emotional closeness with God because it is the best way to understand God’s will, but we are to keep a physical distance and not attempt to place ourselves on an even level with God. God builds closer relationships with a select few so that many can at least be aware of God’s distanced presence in the world. A rainbow is a seemingly passive means of expressing presence in the world. A direct and human connection allows us to relate to God’s existence even when it seems so far away.

Should we strive as individuals to act more or less distanced from other individuals or from society as a whole? I think it depends on what our purpose is. We should absolutely strive towards having a small enough distance that we can empathize with others and act with the human relation necessary to foster a high quality relationship no matter the distance created. It is also important to recognize that sometimes the strongest way to act in the best interest of others is by severing one's own emotion from the actions they need to take. Emotion can absolutely cloud judgement and cause damage when not adequately controlled. As such, the best thing we each can do is take a step back and evaluate all of our relationships. We should determine which ones are worth the risk of physical and emotional closeness, and which ones would be made stronger by establishing a fair distance in both.