Fox Byte 5775 #54: V’Zot Habrachah (This is the blessing)

וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה

BFB151003 Five Chinese BrothersEven superheroes have their weaknesses.  If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting.  This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition.  No individual is complete within himself or herself.  We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots.  Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.

Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood.  Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is.  So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story.  In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea.  Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability.  One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman.  The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.

One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him.  When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground.  Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed.  When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy.  In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.

Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds.  The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns.  His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning.  The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven.  Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.

How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale.  Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation.  That is just as King David said:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.  (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #53: Ha’azinu (Give Ear)

הַאְַזִינוּ

In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)
In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)

The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama.  It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun.  We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens.  British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai.  The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10.  He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland.  Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before.  They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned.  Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.

Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack.  China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941.  As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai.  Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.

By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity.  Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief.  His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts.  Yet Suo Gân remains with him.  One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze.  Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor.  Their deaths come more quickly than expected.  At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin.  In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive.  With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”

At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents.  Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence.  His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew.  It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring.  He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.

BFB150926 Suo GanAll Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation.  So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH.  He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:

Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.  (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)

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