imagesCAQWV2K5Spiderman, like so many other superhero stories and Western sagas, was written by a Jew who was fascinated with story of an ordinary person and his special, secret strength. Spidey’s life parallels the X Men epic in which so-called mutants and rejects save the world again and again using their secret powers. I have always thought X Men was perfect fantasy for geeky teenagers and also for Jews fleeing Amalek, Philistines, Romans, the Inquisition and Nazis. Towards the end of the first Spiderman movie, the web slinging hero articulates the quintessential superhero motto: with great power comes great responsibility. I often say this phrase at the end of a bar mitzvah and it sometimes gets a laugh though I mean it quite seriously. I believe as Americans and as Jews, middleclass-ish, enfranchised US citizens, and college grads we have more power over our own lives and those around us than the majority of the people in the world.
Mostly we forget all this. Lulled into the daily routines of avoiding pain and getting things done, we perceive ourselves and each other as confined to a limited sphere filled with moderately important details and decisions. It reminds me of another favorite movie, Shirley Valentine, about an empty nester housewife who one day stands in the rain and cries, “I’ve led such a little life.”
We might consider this statement in contrast to the very recently released, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The movie is 90% Sandra Bullock, a non-astronaut scientist who finds herself stranded in space with little more than a space suit and a couple of broken rockets. If she is to get home to earth, it will be using her own power and ingenuity. I think it is one of the best movies of the decade (certainly the best acting), and yet on the other hand, no better story than Shirley Valentine’s or any one of ours.
I believe each one of us is as amazing and talented as Bullock in Space or Spiderman on the ceiling. Many of us at some point in our lives have also floated unconnected and isolated without crew support or Huston style back up. Others among us have been far away from family and home. Some of us have known poverty, emigration, illness, accident, addiction, or family tragedy. Some of our families escaped or did not escape the Holocaust. We have survived sorrow, disappointment, injustice, bullying and abuse. After catastrophe, isolation, and fear, here we are, still standing for ourselves and for those we love.
This kind of real life heroism makes the Sandra Bullock character look like the make-believe sci-fi character that she is.
This Chanukah/Thanksgiving, we need to learn how to honor the hero in ourselves in each other. On Chanukah, we celebrate the bravery of the Maccabees. Let us also with each lighted candle celebrate ourselves, the times we were brave, self-sacrificing, responsible, kind, and responsive. Let us tell the family and community stories of determination and courage.
On Thanksgiving we join with friends and family, give thanks and share food. This year, let our gratitude spring from a deep place as we give thanks for near catastrophes and close escapes, for diseases fought and hurricanes weathered. Let us sing of the ordinary heroism of rising for work each day and fixing the roof on weekends, all night hospital vigils and massive Black Friday sales endured to purchase that one special Chanukah gift for a child or spouse.
And so I add my rabbinic commentary to the Spiderman motto: With great power (the power of our connection, of our love, of our gratitude) comes great responsibility (to, as Jean-Luc Picard from Star trek would command, “Make it so.” Make it real and manifest in our lives).
This Chanukah, let us deepen our commitment to use our strength often and wisely, and to fulfill our responsibilities with mighty joy.
This Chanukah/Thanksgiving let us lift up the hero in ourselves and each other—and then give Thanks.