Fox Byte 5775 #39: Chukat (Decree Of)

חֻקַּת

Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) instructs Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in the art of karate in the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid.  (Photo from a review by Roger Ebert, January 1, 1984)
Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) instructs Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in the art of karate in the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid. (Photo from a review by Roger Ebert, January 1, 1984)

Is it possible to be a hero without paying a price?  A hero is one who does something worthy of esteem on behalf of someone else, and that requires sacrifice.  Sometimes it requires the sacrifice of a life, and sometimes merely the sacrifice of time and attention.  Sometimes heroes save nations, and sometimes they save little children from tears of embarrassment, pain, or grief.  Every act of salvation, no matter how small, entails a sacrifice that someone offers willingly.  And that is what makes a hero.

We learn about heroes in The Karate Kid, a 1984 film starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel Larusso, a fatherless teenager very much in need of a hero.  Daniel suffers a vicious beating by boys from a local martial arts school.  He is saved by a humble janitor, Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), who drives off the attackers with a masterful display of karate skills.  Before long Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach karate to Daniel.  The instruction begins when Miyagi assigns Daniel a number of hard tasks.  First he must wash and wax Miyagi’s antique automobiles, using special hand motions to “wax on” and “wax off”.  Then he must sand the walkway around Miyagi’s house, paint the fence around the property, and finally paint the house itself.  Each task features a specific set of hand motions.  After days of arduous labor, Daniel complains that he has learned nothing about karate while working like a slave.  Miyagi responds by having Daniel perform the hand motions for each task.  He then throws punches and kicks at Daniel, demonstrating that “wax on, wax off”, “sand the floor”, “paint the fence”, and “paint the house” have trained the boy to defend against attacks from many angles.  As he blocks Miyagi’s attacks, Daniel realizes the truth:  his faithfulness in seemingly unconnected menial tasks has made him ready for further instruction and greater responsibility in the art of karate.

In time Daniel becomes competent at karate and confident in himself as Miyagi’s training transforms him from a self-absorbed braggart into a self-controlled warrior.  In the concluding scenes he enters a martial arts tournament where he faces the boys who first attacked him.  Each is a formidable opponent, yet while Daniel learned karate as a means of disciplining himself in service of others, they had learned it as a means to exalt themselves over the weak.  They do not realize that the humble attitude Miyagi cultivated in Daniel has made him stronger and better able to withstand pain and suffering.  Their combined efforts at wounding and weakening Daniel only help him discover deeper wells of strength which in the end bring him victory.

This is a life lesson few are willing to learn.  Either we walk humbly in the confidence of our King, or we get eaten by our adversary.  As the Apostle Peter says:

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:5-8 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #22-23: Vayakhel (And He Assembled) / Pekudei (Accounts Of)

וַיַּקְהֵל / פְקוּדֵיּ

The Traveler (Eric Menyuk) and Wesley (Wil Wheaton) discuss the connection of Space and Time and Thought in "Where No One Has Gone Before" (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode 5.  Photo from The Viewscreen.)
The Traveler (Eric Menyuk) and Wesley (Wil Wheaton) discuss the connection of Space and Time and Thought in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode 5. Photo from The Viewscreen.)

What is the secret of the success of Star Trek?  Since 1966 three generations of science fiction fans have followed the adventures of four separate crews on the starship Enterprise, as well as other heroes of Gene Roddenberry’s creation through six TV series and 12 movies.  There must be something more to the Star Trek universe than adventure stories, special visual effects, and outlandish aliens.  Perhaps it is that Star Trek provides us with an opportunity to imagine, to push the boundaries of what is “real”, at least according to what we encounter in our everyday lives.

Certainly that was a key ingredient in the original series, the popularity of which has long outlived the three short seasons it was on the air.  In 1987, Star Trek:  The Next Generation picked up the mantle and carried on that boundary-pushing tradition.  In “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the fifth episode of its first season, a propulsion expert named Kosinski (Stanley Kamel) comes aboard the USS Enterprise to make modifications to the ship’s engines that will enhance their performance.  What we soon learn is that Mr. Kosinski’s equations are meaningless by themselves; the real power behind the modifications is the presence of Kosinski’s assistant, an alien known only as the Traveler (Eric Menyuk).  In the first test, the Enterprise moves faster than ever thought possible into a region of space far beyond our galaxy, a result which astonishes not only the ship’s officers, but Kosinski as well.  Only young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) notices the Traveler’s role in the proceedings.  As the officers argue among themselves, he draws near to the Traveler to learn the truth.  Their conversation includes a very interesting bit of dialogue:

Wesley:  Is Mister Kosinski like he sounds?  A joke?

Traveler:  No, that’s too cruel.  He has sensed some small part of it.

Wesley:  That space and time and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be?  I just thought the formula you were using said something like that.

Later in the episode, the Traveler explains, “You do understand, don’t you that thought is the basis of all reality?  The energy of thought, to put it in your terms, is very powerful.”  And with that we have an articulation from a fantastic science fiction television show of a profound truth first explained by Moses 3,500 years ago.

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Fox Byte 5775 #16: Beshalach (When He Let Go)

בְּשַׁלַּח

Danny Kaye as the head of an "Egyptian Prince" selling Yakov's Golden Elixir in the 1949 film The Inspector General.  From "20 Best Films of the 1940s", Mubi.com.  The entire unforgettable scene is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1yM2babqZs.
Danny Kaye as the head of an “Egyptian Prince” selling Yakov’s Golden Elixir in the 1949 film The Inspector General. From “20 Best Films of the 1940s”, Mubi.com. The entire unforgettable scene is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1yM2babqZs.

The “snake oil salesman” is another of those characters to whom writers and performers have turned for an endless source of entertainment.  Perhaps he is offering a useful product, but more often than not this travelling peddler is a fraud, attempting to sell a strange concoction of secret ingredients he promises will cure every ill known to mankind.  While it is amusing to see how easily this trickster can deceive the gullible, it is tragic to consider how quickly honest people can be robbed of their hard-earned wages when they are desperate to ease the suffering of those they love.  We see a bit of both in Danny Kaye’s masterful performance in the 1949 comedy, The Inspector General.  The film opens with a scene in a Central European village where a troupe of travelling con men stage a show to sell Yakov’s Golden Elixir, a product they claim will not only cure sickness, but even prolong life.  Danny Kaye is the star of the show, posing first as the head of an Egyptian prince kept alive for two thousand years by Yakov’s Elixir, and then dancing and singing as a man whose many diseases have disappeared thanks to the magic tonic.  Yet the whole time he knows what he is selling is no miracle cure, but instead is a dangerous substance used as furniture polish and cleaning fluid.  At the end of the act, when an old woman offers her entire fortune of twelve pennies to buy a bottle for her sick husband, the tender-hearted performer cannot bear to take her money.  Others overhear as he tells her the truth, and with that confession the fraud is exposed and the company of thieves chased from the town.

Of course the real product in The Inspector General is Danny Kaye’s comic genius, and the movie continues to a hilarious conclusion.  Yet the opening scene leaves one with a question:  Could there really be a Yakov’s Elixir that could cure all ills?

Actually, there is such a miraculous cure, and it is even connected with a man named Yakov.  In English that man is known as Jacob, the same man to whom God gave the name Israel.  When God rescued Jacob’s descendants from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a recipe for success which we would do well to learn:

And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.”  (Exodus 15:26 NASB)

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