Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility, your bi-weekly dose of Jews and comics.
I want to wish my Jewish brothers and sisters a sweet New Year, and my other readers a happy day. Today, I am going to teach you about the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and how they relate to comics. I know many are wondering how I am going to make sitting in temple for hours and eating delicious noodle Kugel (yes, I capitalize Kugel, out of respect to its awesomeness) relate to the amazingness of comics. The themes of the holidays contain the same values our greatest heroes live by. The High Holy Days are about taking responsibility for our actions, recognizing our power, learning from our mistakes and trying to be the best person we can be in the future.
Jews are like the Avengers on the High Holy Days, we come from near and far to assemble. “Christmas and Easter Jews”, AKA Avengers reserve members, are the Yids who you never see any other time of the year but who attend services only on the High Holy Days. They are like Batman, they seem to pop out of no-where and then disappear without your seeing them leave.
The main theme of the holidays is repentance. The ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are known as the Days of Awe (Yids actually start repenting the month prior to the holidays). On these days, Jews believe G-D passes judgment over each individual.
The first day, Rosh Hashanah, is the Jewish New Year. Unlike the American New Year, Jews do not normally get drunk and make out with strangers (in my case Galactus: long story…never mind. Forget I said that). Instead, it is a time for family, spirituality, and celebration.
Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. It is the day when G-D opens the book of life and decides what is written in it for the upcoming year. We are judged based on “teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah,”- repentance, prayer, and good deeds. It is said that “who will live and who will die; who will be serene and who will be disturbed; who will be poor and who will be rich; who will be humbled and who will be exalted” will be decided for the year to come. The main theme is that we recognize that we as people have great power to do good and bad. Like Spider-Man, we Jews know that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The question we ask ourselves is: are we using our power to do all we can?
One main difference between a hero and a villain is that a hero takes responsibility for their actions, both good and bad. On the other hand, a villain blames everyone else for their problems. An example is Harry Osborn, who always blames Spider-Man for his father’s death. Meanwhile, Spidey constantly takes responsibility for his mistakes (in a stereo-typically Jewish manner). Learning from his mistakes is what makes Spidey such a spectacular hero. Dr. Doom is another classic case of a character with villainous resentment; Victor Von Doom blames everyone but himself for his shortcomings (especially Reed Richards). Ben Grimm, AKA the iconic Yiddish character The Thing, is an excellent example of someone who makes amends. Years after he stole a Jewish star charm from a local merchant to complete his gang initiation, Grimm goes back to repent for his actions and return the charm. What a nice Jewish boy! I could give millions of examples of heroes learning from their mistakes (John Stewart, Bucky, Hal Jordon…), but that would take till Pesach. Heroes are human too, we make mistakes, but we learn from them (haha, I used the term we).
Returning to my Jew/Avengers analogy, On the High Holy Days, we blow the Shofar (a rams horn) which is similar to Cap screaming his iconic battle cry “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” It is a reminder, comparable to the Bat Symbol in the sky, that we must improve our conduct. We need to work together to heal the world.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is a day we fast for 25 hours without food or drink. In the Bible, it says “you shall restrain your instincts, you shall practice self-control”. Yom Kippur is a day when Jews are supposed to focus strictly on the spiritual and not be governed by earthly distractions. We overcome our lower instincts. Like Dr. Strange after he lost the use of his hands, we need to focus our energy away from our selfish earthly distractions. Other than the massive headache you get by the end of the day, it is pretty cool to dedicate yourself to prayer and recognize your strength to overcome your base urges. You realize the strength you have to fight your inner struggles (If I can fast for a day, one day at a time I can fight my lower urges). The fasting also helps us empathize with those who do not have all that we have. While I will never know what it is like to truly starve due to not having the means, I can show some level of empathy.
Yom Kippur is a day we seek atonement and reconciliation. We ask G-D to forgive us for our sins of the past year. As humans we are not perfect, we all make mistakes, we are flawed. On Yom Kippur we recognize this and take inventory of our flaws to try and do something about them. We admit that “we have cheated, we have spread malicious gossip, we have been self-indulgent in our eating and drinking, we have failed to honor our parents and teachers”.
Let’s be the heroes we can be. So grab some apples and honey in hopes for a sweet new year! L’shanah tovah tikatevu– “May you be inscribed for a good year”