“Star Wars and Judaism: Finding Light and Hope in a Pandemic.” The philosophy of Yoda resonates with the teaching of the Talmud and the importance of hope. This article was published in The Chronicle of Jewish Long Beach, September-October 2020, page 9.
Star Wars and Judaism: Finding Light and Hope
Over the past few months, as my family has been stuck at home, my husband and I have been enjoying introducing our kids to our favorite movies. Being the proud geeks we are, much of our screen time has been devoted to all things Star Wars. Watching The Empire Strikes Back, one scene had new resonance: Luke is asking Yoda about the Force (because when stuck in isolation on a swamp planet, why not study moral philosophy?), and gets an answer that confuses him.
“Is the Dark Side stronger?” he queries. “No, no, no,” answers Yoda, “[But it] is quicker, easier, more seductive.” I thought about that, and discussed what it meant with my kids. A few nights later, during The Phantom Menace, the philosophy continued: “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
This time my hand froze in the popcorn bowl. Yoda was speaking my language. I, like many of us, have been consumed by fear lately: fear of financial insecurity, fear of myself or a loved one getting sick or dying of COVID, fear of making the wrong decision about sending our children to school or not, fear of gaining weight because of constant baking, fear of, fear of… the list goes on. The paths that lie ahead often seem to branch into Dark places, crowded with questions and unresolvable answers. Every choice we make feels like it can lead to long-term consequences that are themselves unclear. In situations like today, how do we choose Light over Dark?
The answer to my question, Judaism reminds me, is to find light with New hope. Hope lets us focus on what’s important in our lives. It moves us forward, propels us to take a baby step on our journey, so that one baby step can become two, and then three, and then a full-on stride.
The Talmud teaches us of the importance of hope in Mishnah Tanchuma, when it describes a great epidemic in Biblical times. One hundred people were dying a day, and King David was desperate for a cure. He read the words of Deuteronomy for comfort, including 10:12: “What [mah] does God ask of you? To walk in God’s ways.” And he had a revelation: the word mah, “what,” could also be read as meah, “one hundred.” God was asking for one hundred a day. In order to end the epidemic which was claiming one hundred lives a day, people needed to start saying one hundred blessings a day. When we bless so many times a day – for seeing a rainbow, over a meal, greeting an old friend, putting on a mask – we realize the immensity of what we already have, and our gratitude overwhelms our despair. Shadows turn to light. Paths that had once seemed foggy and impenetrable suddenly become clear.
Light, and hope, are ever-present when we acknowledge the wonder found in calling a friend on the phone and hearing their voice shine, or in cuddling a grandbaby, or in Zooming with our temple challah-baking class, or in finishing a puzzle or bike riding down the beach. We find light within ourselves, and serve as a brightly burning beacon to others on our journeys.
“Luminous beings are we,” says Yoda. This New Year, may we all find our New Hope, and may it illuminate for each of us a strong path of joy and peace.