Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 19

The Wizard Speaks Again!

June 16, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this communication finds you doing well and in good health despite the difficult circumstances. Please feel free to be in touch with me at any time regarding any matters of personal or spiritual concern.

One of my favorite movies of all time is, no doubt, well-known to you all. For generations, the 1939 MGM fantasy musical entitled The Wizard of Oz, has held a cherished place in American popular culture and in my heart. Based on the classic children’s book by L. Frank Baum, it tells the story of Dorothy Gale, a Kansas farm girl transported to the magical Land of Oz. With its dazzling special effects (for its time), costumes, and sets rendered in vibrant Technicolor, The Wizard of Oz represents one of the greatest achievements in early movie magic.

I begin with the following question: How can we view The Wizard of Oz through the Jewish spectrum? I understand that you may be asking yourself, “Why does the Rabbi wish to connect this film with Jewish thought?” The answer is because he can and it will, perhaps, make you think a bit differently when watching the movie next time.

Those of you who are cinematic aficionados will recall that the first eighteen minutes of the film are in black and white, before the movie turns to the newly discovered artistry of Technicolor. In Judaism, the number 18 represents Chai (life), so this is our first connection.

Here are the other Jewish interpretations, which can serve as good lessons for how to navigate our complex world during these tumultuous times:

The Journey: Dorothy’s path to salvation begins with a dance down the Yellow Brick Road. From a religious perspective, yellow relates to the sun and to gold, both of which are symbols of spiritual influence representing wisdom and faith.

The lesson: As we follow our own Yellow Brick Road, let us navigate our own journeys with wisdom, faith and humility.

The Friends: Each of Dorothy’s newfound friends provides a different lesson.

Bert Lahr played the role of the Cowardly Lion. While we likely recall his stammering and fear, as well as his character’s trepidation about everything in life, the Lion came to personify courage. It was only after he received the blessing from the Wizard regarding strength and self-confidence, which is actually from the Book of Joshua, that he was able to move forward in his life. We too need to accept that blessing of strength and courage! Interestingly, Bert Lahr was born in New York City and his parents were German Jewish immigrants, so I wonder if he made this connection too.

The lesson: Whether from the Wizard, the Book of Joshua, or a prompt from friends or relatives, let us all be strong and of good courage.

The Tin Man was played by Jack Haley, a Canadian of Irish descent. The Tin Man always lamented, “If I only had a heart!” In Exodus 35:10, Moses calls on those “wise of heart” to help build the Mishkan. The commentaries suggest that wisdom means allowing Godly wisdom to direct your feelings in a constructive, balanced, and inclusive way. Furthermore, being “of heart” means sharing excitement and passion for the good and the Godly in all aspects of life.

The lesson: Skill and wisdom are incomplete unless joined by compassion and caring for the world around us.

The Scarecrow was played by Ray Bolger, whose role lamented, “If I only had a brain!” Jewish literature (specifically the Book of Proverbs) suggests that wisdom is accessible to the individual by means of his/her own human faculties. Wisdom transcends communal boundaries and is not the exclusive property of any single group. Furthermore, true Wisdom is concerned with the practical results of a person’s conduct. The lesson: Having brains is important for developing wisdom since you do not develop it without applying yourself.

Dorothy: Probably the most famous line in the movie, “There’s no place like home.” is said by Dorothy. During this time of COVID-19, probably the last thing you want to hear now is, “There’s no place like home,” however, in Jewish tradition, the poetic Kabbalistic blessing for our homes goes as follows (and it rhymes in Hebrew). “Let no sadness come through this gate. Let no trouble come to this dwelling. Let no fear come through this door. Let no conflict be in this place. Let this home be filled with blessing and peace.”

The lesson: Our homes are our Temples of connection, security, and boundless love, so even though we may be encouraged to stay at home, they are a place that makes us feel comfortable.

This was my take on my favorite movie. What’s your favorite movie? Do you see any connections to Jewish traditions or values in it, or perhaps just below the surface? I know many of us are spending time on NetFlix, so please share with me your Jewish movie review!


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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