A Bracha from Batman
Yesterday I had the interesting experience of getting a bracha from Batman.
Okay, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. I wasn't getting a bracha for myself, but rather recording him giving a video bracha for someone else. And he’s not Batman, at least not yet; he’s still only Bruce Wayne.
I’m referring to David Mazouz, a very talented young actor who plays twelve-year-old Bruce Wayne in the hit new television series Gotham. It turns that David attends the same school as my nephew. I seized the opportunity to do something special for the children of a neighbor of mine, who are big fans of the show and who have suffered a family tragedy. David kindly agreed to bless them with “bracha and hatzlacha.” (As a friend of mine quipped – it was a bat-mitzva!)
Meeting the young Batman just a few days after my encounter with the Lord on the beach, I was reminded of that post. I had reminisced about the stage of my life when I subscribed to a black-and-white view regarding the legitimacy of sources of religious inspiration. Anything [Orthodox] Jewish was in; anything not Jewish was out.
At that stage of my life, about twenty years ago, I was once speaking to a certain brilliant Jewish educator of a decidedly non-charedi disposition. He was a big Batman fan, and told me about various creative insights that he had, connecting Batman with Jewish ideas. I was appalled. As a teenager, I had always been a big Batman fan (not the campy TV show with Adam West, but rather the more serious and intense graphic novels). But to claim that Batman could be a source of Jewish inspiration seemed downright sacrilegious. In a fit of religious fervor, I took my collection of Batman graphic novels and sold them.
Fast forward many years, and, as noted in my earlier post, my view has broadened. If Bnei Brak can draw inspiration from a Christian parable about the Lord on the beach, then we can draw inspiration from wherever it is to be found. And, with regard to Batman, I came across a wonderful little book entitled “Wisdom from the Batcave.” It is written by Rabbi Cary Friedman, a prison chaplain who also teaches classes on spiritual growth for law enforcement officers, including the FBI. The book is all about spiritual lessons to learn from the Dark Knight, including such concepts as how to triumph over adversity, the value of willpower, the blessing of family, and so on.
A few years ago, I myself was spiritually assisted by Batman. I can’t remember the exact details, but it was a halachic situation in which I was being tempted to come up with some sort of rationalization for why I didn't need to observe it. Then, all of a sudden, a page from the second-greatest Batman graphic novel of all time, The Dark Knight Returns, popped into my mind.
It was where a middle-aged Batman, having come out of retirement, is in a tank-like vehicle, with an utterly evil monstrous person called the Mutant Leader in his gunsights. In the world of Batman, there are some concrete rules. One is that Batman never, ever kills. He might bruise and maim and break bones, but he never takes a life. Another rule is that criminals never remain incarcerated – they always manage to somehow escape from prison or from Arkham Asylum, to commit further atrocities.
So, Batman is looking at this monster, and thinking to himself that the only thing that makes sense is to fire the tank cannons and blow him off the face of the earth. But, he reminds himself, to do so would mean crossing a line that he drew for himself thirty years earlier. And so he doesn't do it.
In this particular scenario, it may well make perfect sense for Batman to kill the Mutant Leader rather than sparing him to inevitably end up committing more atrocities. But if Batman kills this person, then there is no real reason for him not to kill other bad guys. And once Batman becomes a mass executioner, the world is a much worse place. And so he doesn't kill him.
This is a very important concept that I have successfully since used with others, in particular with Orthodox Jews who have faith issues and who are questioning whether they should observe particular halachos. Like the situation in which the Dark Knight found himself, the question is not whether there is sufficient reason to keep a particular halachah. Rather, the question is, what kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be part of halachic society, or not? That question can have a very different answer, which motivates a person to observe halachah even in a case where he would otherwise see no reason to do so.
Of course, this does not mean that every message communicated by Batman is of value. Indeed, in the aforementioned story, Batman proceeds to come up with a second and apparently more important reason for not killing the Mutant Leader – because he wants to see if, in his fifties, he still has what it takes to win in hand-to-hand combat. This is absurd – you don’t risk letting evil triumph in order to boost your ego! The first reason alone is valid.
So, one can draw religious inspiration from Batman. I plan to send my copy of Wisdom from the Batcave to the young Bruce Wayne – he is a very fine young man, and I’m sure that he will appreciate seeing how he can learn from the character that he plays. I hope that he will grow up to be a great man, and perhaps one day there will be many more Jews seeking a bracha from Batman!