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'GOT or GOD'

16/05/19 15:33:59


I’m no Game of Thrones (GOT) devotee or maven having only watched a few isolated episodes. I decided to watch the current series after reading how the epic war portrayed broke all TV records for the longest-filmed scene ever produced (it took 55 straight nights in snow, rain and mud sub-freezing conditions). And it was riveting: awful in its blood-letting, terrifying in its horror, dramatic in its tension. I’ve now watched the subsequent episodes and am madly anticipating the Grand Final!


It makes compelling viewing because it touches on the issues that drive us all: politics and intrigue, family rivalry and jealousy, blood and sex.


Its popularity is a reflection of our age, its themes emblematic of all ages. It’s about our times because it’s about powerful dynasties and politics, it’s about our age because we are so familiar with the way the powerful manipulate their rivals and often are reckless and feckless when it comes to the general populace.


The last episode was telling in the way the Queen Daenerys Targaryen allows her thirst for revenge displace her compassion for the ordinary innocent citizens caught up in the conflict. On her fire-roaring dragon she executes a burnt-earth policy destroying everything in the medieval city.


It doesn’t seem that different from the terrible conflicts ripping apart the Middle East in Syria, Yemen and Libya. The missiles aimed at the dragon seem awfully close to the rockets that Hamas and Hezbollah rain down on Israel and its civilian populace. These are poignant depictions of the horror and what Wilfred Owen calls the ‘pity’ of war.


There’s an awful amount of gratuitous violence in these episodes but often nothing less than the kind of real violence we’ve had live-streamed from the cynical Isis. It’s a case of art imitating life. And as for the sex, we live in an over-sexualised culture with pornography as prevalent as popcorn. This is not to excuse it but to reflect on the wild and wounded world we live in.


Further, if Game of Thrones is, as NY Times journalist Egner suggests, about the futility of revenge and violence and a critique of political structures based on raw power and entitlement it’s an important message for our age.


Some suggest that as its heart is the idea that while individuals and countries are fighting over power and wealth, they’re ignoring the threat that “winter is coming”. We’re so busy fighting over other issues, albeit important ones, like social responsibility and social justice, but overlooking the threat of climate change and its potential to severely damage our planet. In a week in which Australian elections are taking place, issues of climate change are high on the agenda (The Lowy Institute identified it as one of the key factors for voters). But then, the issues of social responsibility and creating a kinder society are also pivotal in any election.


When the final series started airing, I was struck by a comment brought in the name of Rav Tzadok (by Riskin) on the parasha of that week (Achrei; Mot; Leviticus 16:1). Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (1822 – 1900) in his monumental work Pri Zaddik quoted a famous midrash of an individual walking on a road (life’s journey) seductively being summoned either by fire to his right or snow to his left. The wise traveller understands that he must remain at the centre avoiding both extremes – the fanatic fire of passion and the apathy of icy snow.


In the GOT Great War Scene the cold wintry forces of death confront the passionate fires of the defenders. The defenders in this series are on the side of good and life but clearly capable of great violence and horror themselves. This is where we need Rav Tzadok’s wise traveller: Our world is filled with too many zealots and extremists in the name of God and too many indifferent people, cold as the snow, devoid of spirituality or parev in their morality.


Apathy is never a substitute for empathy or an excuse for inaction. We need passionately moderate warriors who are prepared to defend the middle ground. We need to restate Rambam’s call to follow the golden middle road the “shvil ha-zahav”.


This week’s parasha (Emor) highlight the concepts of “Kiddush and Chilul Hashem”, sanctifying and shaming the name of God. So much wickedness today is carried out in the name of God; so many extremists proclaiming they’re doing their damage to protect God’s name. “Not in my name” says God. The pathway to a better gentler society and world is by avoiding the extremes of inaction and zealous action and seeking to promote the ways of peace and pleasantness.


As we say in our tefillot when we return the Torah to the ark – “Her ways (ie the Torah’s) are the ways of pleasantness and all her byways of peace”. The throne of God is free of politics and power, violence and vice. That’s the game I’ve signed up for!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Ralph


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Thu, 21 January 2021 8 Shevat 5781