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)

Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #24: Vayikra (He called)

וַיִּקְרָא

In this scene from The Cat in the Hat, the son takes action to stop the desecration of the house.  (Picture from The Cat in the Hat, read by RC Ward, on Just Books Read Aloud)
In this scene from The Cat in the Hat, the son takes action to stop the desecration of the house. (Picture from The Cat in the Hat, read by RC Ward, on Just Books Read Aloud)

A standard feature of civilization is the rules of the house, the guidelines by which a person can be welcomed into and remain peacefully within someone’s home.  At the most basic level these are rules children learn from their parents at the earliest age.  Parents explain proper behavior and children grow up doing what they have said, or suffering the consequences if they disobey.  As adults the children pass on these rules to their children so they may act properly when visiting Grandma and Grandpa.  This maintains peace in the family, not only ensuring respect for the elders, but establishing and reinforcing a foundation for loving relationships.

If this is so, then how should we approach The Cat in the Hat?  Since its publication in 1957 by Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), The Cat in the Hat has become one of the world’s most popular and successful children’s books.  Geisel wrote it as an attempt to find an easier way for children to learn to read, but his creation has become much more than that; the Cat is now a cultural icon.  The book has everything that would appeal to children:  an engaging story told in simple, silly rhyme, colorful illustrations, and an outrageous degree of irreverence for the house rules.  The story opens with a rainy day in a normal house, where a Boy and his sister Sally are left at home with nothing to do while their Mother is out.  Suddenly their quiet boredom is interrupted by the entrance of the Cat who promises, “Lots of good fun that is funny”.  He then proceeds to violate every rule of the house by using everything he sees – including the pet Fish in its bowl – as a plaything.  Just when we think it can get no worse, the Cat introduces his friends Thing 1 and Thing 2.  The three anarchic intruders accelerate the mayhem, and in a very short time everything that is sacred, including Mother’s new gown and her bedroom furniture, have suffered violence.  At the height of the disaster, the Fish alerts the children to the approach of their Mother and urges them to do something to stop the destruction.  The Boy jumps into action, grabbing a large net with which he captures the Things and orders the Cat to pack them up and take them away.

With the intruders gone, the children and the Fish contemplate how to clean up the enormous mess.  To their surprise, the Cat returns with a machine that puts everything back in order just in time.  Thus The Cat in the Hat ends on a good note, with the house rules mended.  Yet that is not the end of the lesson.  While Dr. Seuss may not have intended it, his story resembles the tale of another Son concerned about violation of the house rules established by His Parent:

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.”  (Matthew 21:12-13 NASB)

Please click here to continue reading