Tag Archive | Va’etchanan

Fox Byte 5775 #46: Eikev (Because)

עֵקֶב

Since the first stage production of Of Mice and Men in 1937, the play has gripped audiences and readers for its deep and disturbing probe into human nature. It has also spawned innumerable parodies and references in popular culture that have diluted the power of the piece. (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the film 'Of Mice and Men' in 1939, Chris O'Dowd & James Franco in 'Of Mice and Men' in 2014 on Broadway, from "Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men", by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has gripped audiences with its disturbing probe of human nature since 1937.  (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the 1939 film version; Chris O’Dowd & James Franco in the 2014 Broadway production, from “Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men”, by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing?  This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth.  Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial.  This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.

This truth of life has its reflection in art.  Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression.  It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day.  From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself.  He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them.  All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise.  Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength.  The soft things he pets often end up dead.  At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair.  This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again.  The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.

The quintessential parody of Of Mice and Men appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, The Abominable Snow Rabbit". (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

The quintessential parody of Steinbeck’s work appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons.  As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny.  It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”.  In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:

Just what I always wanted.  My own little bunny rabbit.  I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.

With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power.  Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart.  The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:

And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #45: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)

וָאֶתְחַנַּן

Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault.  The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies.  Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again.  A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be.  Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill.  The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference.  Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended.  The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later.  The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it.  When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.

It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points.  They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order.  The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point.  Consider just one point:  establishment of an independent Poland.  That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation.  It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations.  In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.

This should remind us of something in Scripture.  The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France.  On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,

Quatorze?  Le bon Dieu n’a que dix.  (Fourteen?  The Good Lord only has ten.)

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