By Varda Bronfman (www.carobspring.com)
We are reading about the new movie “The Passion” from Mel Gibson ad nauseum. The movie raises problems for us because Jews are portrayed as the villains in this emotion-charged drama about the last hours of Jesus. We are worried about the anti-semitic backlash that could be aroused by the masterful cinematography which is as real-to-life as you can get. Even the dialogue is spoken in Aramaic or Latin with English sub-titles to deepen the illusion that this whole story really happened just as we see it on screen.
Rabbis who never step foot in movie theatres are warning that the movie can have dire consequences for the Jewish image, because it dramatically portrays Jews committing deicide. All the Public Relations work from people like the Jewish Federations and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the disclaimers of our guilt from Vatican II would be eclipsed by the movie screen and the images projected there. As my husband said, he would hate to be walking by on the sidewalk in his distinctly Jewish clothing when the movie theatre lets out.
One of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and other great Rabbis is that whatever happens out there is a mirror for something happening inside of us. For example, if a person annoys us, we can read what’s happening as a wake up call to see in ourselves the unpleasant character trait that’s being exhibited before our eyes.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t try to get the situation cleared up. It means that we stop feeling like we are simply a victim, and we realize that Hashem is delivering a powerful catalyst for us to fix something in ourselves.
We notice a funny thing. When we stop grumbling and start making the indicated changes, that person or event might suddenly drop out of view. The message was received, and so no more need for the catalyst.
Another way of stating this principle is: Whatever happens is meant to teach us something. This is much like the principle from our greatest Rabbis that every world event is directed at the Jewish People. We are being instructed by each event in the world and in our personal lives, and it’s up to us to figure out what the particular message is.
Back to “The Passion.” Here we have someone named Mel Gibson who is willing to spend 25 million dollars of his own money on a movie that does justice to his religious fervor as a Christian. He’s probably dreamed of doing this for a long time, and this movie is its long-awaited fulfillment.
Very possibly, it’s not only money, but also his passionate beliefs that motivated him to make this movie that now arouses so much alarm in Jewish circles. Appropriately, the “passion” in the title may well be referring to Gibson’s own fervor as well as the so-called passion plays that they enact every year on one of their major holidays.
If we stop getting frightened, angry, defensive, and victimized, then we can step back and look at this world event that is reminding us that there is such a thing as passion in the world, and it can be applied to one’s belief in G-d.
We already know about passion as applied to chocolate mousse or growing tulips. My friend’s father was passionate about planting tulip bulbs. He planted 4,000 tulip bulbs in his garden. I always loved that story about him because it reminded me about the strength a person can muster when he believes in something. Passion is about wanting, believing, appreciating, loving, and creating.
At the age of 29, I first discovered that G-d knew about me and had been overseeing every detail in my life so that I could finally open my eyes and remember Him. The revelation hit me as I stood at the Western Wall. I saw clearly that every event in my life had been building up to that moment when I could finally feel His Presence and start loving Him back. It opened up a flood of tears, but not just weeping, more like a flash flood in the desert.
After that, I was passionate about G-d. I wasn’t about to leave Him again, once I’d found Him. I talked and sang to Him, and I danced to Him. I was never alone because I was constantly in His company. When I learned the formal prayers for praising Him, I said them passionately.
After over twenty years of Jewish observance, it takes more work to keep the passion factor. It isn’t something that anyone can see, but it’s very clear to me when I have it and when I don’t.
There is nothing like Jewish passion. It has kept us going for thousands of years during which time every other ancient civilization has long since perished. In its extreme form, it gives a Jew the ability to give up his life for his passionate love of G-d and Jewishness.
Every single generation has witnessed examples of these holy individuals who were murdered by fanatical Christians and Muslims. Anti-semitic hatred doesn’t need the mastery of a film like “The Passion” to ignite it.
With G-d’s help, we won’t have to die for Him, but we can find ways to wake up our passion and live for Him.
What does our passion for G-d have to do with Mel Gibson’s passionate belief and his movie about it? Just about nothing. As is said about the sacred and the profane, “Elef, elef havdallas.” A thousand, thousand separations. Only that here is a world event that appears threatening to us. It’s called “The Passion,” and it may be another one of those mirrors the Baal Shem Tov talks about.
When is the last time we were passionate about G-d? Do we have any passionate dreams to make the world a better place, a place with more G-d consciousness, and what about actually doing them? This passion may not have to actualize as a 25 million dollar movie, or it might.
This passion could simply be a flame that we light in the hidden chambers of our hearts. No one might see it, but we would know the difference it made, and G-d would know.
© Varda Branfman, 2004.