Become a Legend

By Uriah - Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
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One of the themes of Channukah commonly focused on is the idea of dispelling darkness with light. This is physically represented by the central mitzvah of Channukah – lighting the Menorah. Conceptually it is the light of Torah dispelling the darkness of Greek thought and culture. One may make the mistake of oversimplifying things by taking this to mean that the good guys (us) beat the bad guys (them). Yet such a surface analysis of this holiday ignores the subtle difference between our victory over our enemies during Channukah versus other victories such as Purim or Pesach. Light dispelling darkness isn’t just about the good side winning and the bad side losing.

What is darkness? When a room is dark everything in it will serve as a stumbling block for you to trip over as you grope about no matter what each particular object may be. The darkness isn’t empty, but actually contains something which while it is concealed in the darkness serves to hinder and endanger you. Yet once you shine a light into the room and are able to discern where each object is and what it does, not only do you not trip over them but you can suddenly use them to your advantage. And perhaps this is why Chazal refer to ancient Greece as darkness and often refer to Torah as light. The Greeks glorified beauty and aesthetics, strength, the sciences and wisdom. Often the desire for these things leads a person down a self-destructive path, but if one is able to shine the light of Torah onto these areas and figure out a way to use them for the service of Hashem, they can actually become great tools for accomplishing this purpose.

It is with this idea in mind that I would like to take one of the classics of ancient Greek culture – literature, and attempt to shine a little light of Torah into it. I have a bit of a habit (I’m not quite sure if it’s a bad one or not) when it comes to reading literary classics, semi-classics, or cult classics. Often I hear of a book whose plot or theme catches my interest but I just don’t have the time to read it. Rather than trek to the local library or whip out the debit card and hop on Amazon, I often just look it up on Wikipedia or some crib notes website and skim through a general outline of the story as well as some commentary and critical analysis. Call it lazy, call it cheating, call it whatever you like. Between work, family, Torah, and an ADD attention span to boot, sometimes you have to get by with what works. Anyway, several years ago a zombie genre movie came out starring Will Smith titled, “I Am Legend.” I don’t remember it being a particularly good flick, but then I’ve also seen a lot worse. Recently I found out that it was based on a book by the same title which was actually the basis for several other films as well (including Omega Man – one I’ve never personally seen but may have to look up on Wikipedia one of these days). After seeing a bit about the original plot I read up on it and it seems to be a fascinating story.

Apparently, there is some sort of global nuclear war which starts causing major changes in the weather spawning a large amount of dust storms. These dust storms carry on their winds some sort of fungus or bacteria which, upon infection, causes one to become a vampire. Protagonist Robert Neville, who seems to be naturally immune to the disease, finds himself alone as the last normal human on Earth – an Earth teeming with vampires. By day he travels the deserted streets of Los Angeles salvaging food, gathering supplies for survival and defense, and researching whatever scientific material he can to study the disease, find it’s cause and possibly even a cure. By night he barricades himself in his home as scores of vampires surround his house trying to break in. They throw rocks at his windows and mocking taunts at his ears as they try to break both his defenses and his resolve. As the morning light creeps over the horizon they scatter and he arms himself with garlic, a mallet and several stakes as he starts his daily routine over again. As the afternoon sun starts to set he races home every day to ensure he’s locked safe inside before the assault begins anew. He can no longer peep through the openings outside as the better looking of the lady vampires constantly try to seduce him and tempt him to leave the confines of his household fortress. He decides to soundproof the walls as they temptingly call out to him and his former neighbor keeps shouting “Come out Neville!” The only thing that gets him through the loneliness and misery is spending his nights chain smoking and drinking himself into a stupor.

While the plot summaries provide some fascinating details about the story, we’ll cut to the end where perhaps the most intriguing moment occurs. Eventually Neville is captured by the vampires and set to be executed as punishment for all the vampires he has killed as well as because of the danger he poses if left alive. He finds that they are planning on rebuilding society, and creating a new humanity of vampire-diseased peoples. He swallows some cyanide pills to put himself to death and during his last moments ponders the profound irony of it all. For hundreds if not thousands of years, the vampire has been an object of legend – a mysterious fearful being of the night. Yet in the new vampire society the world of vampires and the life of the night will be common place and parents will scare their children with stories of the terrifying human who stalked them in the daylight hours – slaying them in their sleep. Pondering how he will be remembered as a frightening myth of the new world, he declares with one of his last breaths, “I am legend.”

Now, while this may be an interesting story (or at least I think so), what on Earth can we learn out of it about Channukah? Often in our battles with our Yetzer Hara we find ourselves to be Robert Neville. While we try to hunker down in our homes, places of learning and prayer, or just a “safe place” within our mind, we have to wait out constant bombardments from the other side. Sometimes it’s the assaults to our willpower like the rocks at the windows and the attempts to tear down the door. Sometimes it’s the siren temptation of lust like the female vampires driving Neville crazy. Sometimes it’s the shock at our lack of humanity when we’re driven into conflict with others, like Neville contemplating how he would ruthlessly decimate vampires for his own survival even though he knew deep down that before they were infected they were normal people just like him. And sometimes, like the the repetitive call of his neighbor simply stating, “Come out!” – sometimes it’s just the simple bitterness of the Yetzer trying to tell us to just give up already and join the party. Why fight so hard and so long when there’s no hope of winning or outlasting anyway?

The Maccabees also spent year after year during the conflict fighting a war they had no chance of winning. The enemy used every form of physical might, intellectual appeal and lust to crush the values of Torah. Not only that but even the overwhelming majority of their Jewish brethren fought them along side the Greeks. It was literally them against the entire world. How many freezing cold winter nights did they spend in tents caves or forests in the hills outside Jerusalem? How many years were taken off their lives from the stress of fighting for survival on a daily basis and constantly being stalked by an unstoppable enemy force? How much ridicule must they have suffered at the hands of the Hellenized Jews encouraging them to just accept the new way and give up on an seemingly antiquated and irrelevant past. Yet look at what they accomplished. Neville as well, though he ended up dying in the end, felt a great sense of accomplishment at having forever been sealed in the history of his enemy as their greatest symbol of fear. And so too with us. Often we may feel spiritually hunkered down in a little hole with no respite from the onslaught of the world around us and our own internal battles. We may feel completely alone in the world as if nobody shares our struggles or understands. Yet we can take great encouragement that the reason we are getting hit so hard from the other side is precisely because we have the potential to accomplish so much. We may see ourselves as insignificant or full of failings. Yet the fact we manage to hold on in the face of whatever spiritual, physical, or other adversity we may be grappling with turns our very obstacles into a testimony of our personal greatness.

Posted in Books, Chanukah, Jewish Holidays, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Uriah • • Top Of Page

One Response to “Become a Legend”

Comment from Malkah
Time December 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I think that was the world’s first Torah Spoiler! Yasher Koach – you are right on. May we have the strength to keep the blood suckers at bay.