By Laura Seymour
Often I am asked where I get my ideas, and it is no secret that I am a confirmed bibliophile. However, I also love the movies and the lessons we find in them.
Over the winter break, “Les Miserables” hit the big screen and I was excited to find a “commentary” on it from www.aish.com. Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a wonderful writer, and so I will quote his article here.
Blech found that Victor Hugo originally intended “Les Miz” to be a religious book revolving around how best to resolve the conflict between mercy and justice. Inspector Javert is the defender of law and order, and wants blind justice without the possibility of repentance. Hugo delivers a story that Jewish theologians would be expressed in the two biblical names of God. One name carries the attribute of justice (midat ha din) and the other name the attribute of mercy (midat ha rachamim). This duality helps us in the struggle to find the balance. Blech gives us Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 1:1.
“It does not say ‘of the Lord’s creation of,’ for in the beginning it was His intention to create it with the Divine Standard of Justice, but he perceived that the world would not endure; so He preceded it with the Divine Standard of Mercy, allying it with the Divine Standard of Justice, and that is the reason it is written in chapter 2:4, ‘on the day the Lord God made earth and heaven.’”
Javert struggles with his commitment to strict justice. The dilemma occurs when Jean Valjean saves Javert’s life — how can he solve conflict and be moral, not lawful? He can’t decide, and his life ends.
“Les Miserables” comes to same conclusion as Rashi — in the words of Rabbi Blech: “The world cannot exist solely with justice without mercy, and those who attempt it will lose even their will to survive.”
My children would often get frustrated with my “finding God (or at least Judaism)” in everything. But the Torah and the rabbis who worked to find meaning for their day cover all of our lives’ stories and struggles. What makes “Les Miz” so great (besides the music) is this ethical dilemma we all face at times in our lives.
The movie is not for young children but definitely take your teens — see it together and make sure you have time for discussion after.
Rabbi Blech reminds us, “Jewish law is a system that mightily strives to merge these two divine traits. It asks much of us, but it also offers the means to repentance and pardon. Sin has consequences; crime has punishment. But penitence is always possible. Forgiveness is to be granted to those who have overcome their failings.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and director of Jewish life and learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.