Do You Have What it Takes to be a Superhero?
I’m not going crazy, but I’m certain that I saw Spiderman trying to climb a wall in my synagogue. And if my memory serves me right, I’m pretty sure that I saw Batman too. Please, don’t tell me that it’s all in my mind. I’m sure you’ve seen the same in your shuls every Purim when children and adults dress up in costume. My soul enjoys the spirit and depth of the holiday, but my literary and journalistic mind is always typing the headline: “A Convention of Superhero Wannabees.”
Mothers who frantically scavenge their local party stores and search on-line for sold-out costumes reckon with the reality that children are uncompromisingly determined to wear what they want to wear. It's a Ninja or nothing. Good luck moms!
I have always believed that a costume reflects the inner desire of what a child or adult wants to be. We rarely see a child dress up as a nerd with a sign affixed to his back which reads, “Kick me.” But rather, we see children climbing over the pews and running through the aisles like pint-sized “dragon slayers” famed for their ability to save the world.
Ah, if only a mere cape could imbue us with superhuman powers and turn us into invincible superheroes in our fight against evil! But we need not be military strategists to know that before wielding a weapon, we must first identify the villain and who and what we are trying to save.
Until we have that mapped out, life is just a masquerade, with all of us posing in costume, pretending to be one thing or another.
This week’s Torah reading pulls the mask off and forces us to look into the mirror. Who is the superhero? It is YOU! Who is the “villain”? Also YOU!
The parasha aptly starts with the word Re’eh meaning “behold” or “see.” What were the Israelites supposed to clearly see (without X-ray vision)? The gift of free choice and the consequences which ensue: a blessing or a curse.
That was not just a choice put before the Jews in the desert thousands of years ago. That is a choice which is before us every second of every day. You see, my friends, being a superhero is not about waiting for that big moment and swooping in and lifting a truck off a cat or your neighbor’s grandmother. Those calls to action are so rare that they really don’t impact our lives at all. We just remain legends in our own minds, pondering all the great things we’d do if someone needed a kidney, a bailout, or a dragon slayer. We are the heroes of unlikelihoods with imaginary costumes.
The Torah doesn’t demand such heavy lifting to be a superhero i.e., to be a righteous person. But rather, one who is able to conquer the moment and stifle his or her evil inclinations is the mightiest of all.
For instance, my brother has big muscles; But he didn’t build them by lifting one heavy weight once and then poof, there they were. He built them one rep at a time and over time. The Torah demands the same of us.
Build your goodness by breaking down the evil and its accompanying curses one opportune moment at a time. When we say no to a forbidden relationship; when we quell inappropriate urges; when we stop ourselves from speaking and listening to gossip; when we buy one thing less and give more to charity; when we postpone the delicious bite until after we make a blessing; when we control our anger and stifle our words; when we watch a Torah lecture instead of Netflix; when we behold that every moment has the “nutrient” to ennoble us, fortify us and bless us - then we are truly transformed. If we make the right choices, we become conquerors fighting the darkness with the most powerful weapon of mass construction: LIGHT!
The Sages asked, “Who is mighty?”
They answered: “He who subdues his [evil] inclination.”
Physically, Samson was the strongest man in the world; but his biceps proved useless in the face of the evil inclination.
Fighting our own evil inclinations also makes us national and international heroes. Maimonides writes that a Jew must view himself and the entire world as equally balanced between good and evil. Therefore, if he commits one sin, he presses down the scale of guilt against himself and the entire world and causes its destruction.
We are one people in one boat whose destiny is decided by all of us. If the rabbi is praying at the front of the boat and the sinners are drilling a hole in the back, do we not all share the same fate? And so, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to realize the important role which we play in each other’s lives, and how every opportunity offers us a chance to be a superhero.
I remember playing a pinball machine or a Pac-Man machine as a child. I remember how important it was for us kids to be able to surpass the level of the prior champions. Life itself reminds me of those games. There are always things that pop up before us which we must defeat, or they will defeat us. There's always a new villain. There's always a new problem.
Will we fight those villains, those moments, with integrity, decency, honesty, charity, humility, kindness, love, faith and compassion? Or will we fight back against these tests, designed by the finger of God, by becoming liars, thieves, manipulators, cheaters, low-class back stabbers and frauds?
You see, the only person we are really playing against is ourselves. We are both the hero and the villain. Our goal is to keep performing at a higher level than we have previously and upping the ante of our good and decent traits. Or we can continue to need costumes to feel like superheroes and to bluff the world. It takes a single moment to be a villain or a hero. So guard your moments because they become your life.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a Jew behaving like one. Now that, my friends, is a superhero!