I was so excited to see the new Superman movie, Man of Steel. A friend and I went to the new movie theatre next to Lowe's, found ourselves seats that weren't too close to the screen ... weren't too far back ... and perfectly placed for optimum surround sound. The movie started, and after about ten minutes, we both started glancing at our iPhones. After that, we started making our own commentary to the movie, ala Mystery Science Theatre 3000. We did not like it.
I needed to cleanse my superhero film palette, so the next week, I watched the blu-ray of Superman I, with the wonderful Christopher Reeve. As I watched Richard Donner's film, I realized something: Superman spends a heck of a lot of time being Clark Kent.
We have many heroes in our Torah. They may not don a bright red cape, but they spoke to God, lived hundreds of years, and started a nation. They are our heroes. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel. They were flawless specimens of humanity that we should look up to emulate.
Wait a minute ... is that right? Abraham lied to Pharaoh saying that Sarah was his sister, just to save his own skin. Oh yeah, and he also almost killed his own son Isaac. Jacob and his mother, Rebecca, lied to Jacob's dying father Isaac so that Jacob would receive his father's blessing instead of Esau. Leah and Rachel continually fought with each other over the affection of Jacob. Sarah told Abraham to take another wife, and then when that wife bore a son, Ishmael, Sarah forced Abraham to banish both of them.
This is exactly what makes the Torah so powerful. We relate to the sibling rivalry of Jacob and Esau. We understand the bitterness of the then-barren Sarah. Our ancestors - Our avot and imahot are not like the Greek Gods I spoke about last night. They are like us. And we are like them.
All of us identify with Clark Kent. We relate to him not only because he is a regular guy that works at a newspaper. We relate to him because he is clumsy ... he occasionally lacks confidence ... He's nervous around others.
Much has been written about Superman, especially as this year is the 75th anniversary of his creation. Reform Judaism magazine had a cover feature dedicated to the Jewish origins of comic book superheroes. Comic book aficionados point out that Clark Kent is not just a mask that Superman wears so that he can blend in. It is Clark Kent that gives Superman his vulnerability, his love for mankind and his moral compass. Clark Kent is not the weaker side of Superman - he is part of Superman's power.
If Superman was a Torah story, I'd say this: Superman spends a lot of time being Clark Kent in order to teach us that we can be like Superman.
When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, God bestows a mantle of leadership upon Moses along with s burden of responsibility. The first thing Moses says is, Not me! They won't listen to me! I'm not good enough ... I am heavy of mouth.
Now our midrash suggests that heavy of mouth implies that Moses has some sort of speech impediment - most likely a stutter.
Interestingly, as the Torah weaves its tale of our people, Moses speaks more and more. In fact, all of Deuteronomy is essentially one long speech by Moses! I imagine Moses having some sort of Shakespearean soliloquy toward the end of his life in which he reflects on how far he has come from that nascent moment at the burning bush. Without a doubt, Moses* has become the leader the Israelites need.
Earlier this morning, we read from Nitzavim, the same portion I quoted from last night. Toward the end of the portion, Moses says:
Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, "Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?" No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
For me, this is the most powerful sentiment in our entire Torah. It reminds us that we ... can ... do ... this. It may seem difficult, but you must remember that it is very close to you. You can reach for it. You can grab it. We can do it.
On Yom Kippur, we strike our chests as we recite the alphabet of sin, ashamnu. We are imperfect. We have flaws. We have not stretched to meet the best parts of ourselves. We have hurt others. We, like Moses, are heavy of mouth.
But then again, Moses did t'suvah. Moses grew and matured and stretched and became the great leader that now teaches us, It is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. God chooses Moses to lead the Israelites not despite of his speech impediment, but because of it! God chooses Moses because like Clark Kent and like all of us, he walks through life with imperfections and flaws, mistakes and transgressions.
While trading ideas for our High Holiday sermons, a colleague related a conversation he had with a congregant. This congregant was speaking about a strained relationship, and my friend suggested that this person reach out and do t'suvah. The person's response was: Yes. But it's so hard.
It is hard. But hard is not impossible. We can make amends. We can do t'suvah. We can improve ourselves. It is a part of our Jewish do's ... D-O-apostrophe's. It is part of the mandatory optionals that God gives us when Moses says, Choose Life. This life of holiness and blessing is not beyond the sea nor high up in the heavens. It is within our grasp ... we just need to stretch.
As all of us do stand together this day. We stand in the glaring sun of the desert at the base of Mount Sinai. We look around the mountain base and see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. You squint and see Moses amongst us. They were flawed people. They made mistakes. We can be like them. We can commit to moving forward, letting holiness shine through our imperfections. We can look at our true selves and respond with a resounding, Hineni. I am here. I am ready. And in later generations, when we are gone, others will see us standing with them at Mount Sinai. We will be their ancestors ... their heroes. Because we will have taken Moses' words to heart: The thing is very close to you - in your mouth and in your heart.