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Rabbi Levi Welton Headshot

Frankenstein Meets the Bible

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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published in London in the early 1800's well after the Jewish legend of the Golem-creature who protected 16th century Jews in Prague Although there are some differences between the story lines, the similarities between Frankenstein and the Golem are striking: For starters, they were both big and scary with superhuman strength. Plus, they both had to be Jewish. I mean, most of my Jewish relatives have names that end in "-stein"... Goldstein, Silverstein, Frankenstein... you name it. And my own Grandma swore that my Grandpa looked like a Golem. And just to drive home my logical deductions even more, the Talmud talks about a Golem being created who couldn't communicate verbally (Sanhedrin 65B) and it seems pretty clear that Frankenstein doesn't utter any intelligible language known to man. Either that or Frankie works as a NYC subway operator.

Although the Talmud may have spoke about Golems, Isaiah spoke about "wearying" the people with "frankincense." The full verse reads as follows: "You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor did I weary you with frankincense . (Isaiah 43: see the comic, people!) Interestingly, without a Jewish Temple in which to perform such ceremonies, the number of Biblical mitzvot (good deeds) for Jews is drastically decreased from 613 to just 274! (Chofetz Chaim (1990) (in Hebrew). Sefer HaMitzvot HaKatzar. Jerusalem: Feldheim. pp. 9, 16, 17.)

If you judge a person by what they ask for, then it would seem the Creator is in love with the idea of "sacrifice" considering almost all of the mitzvot have to do with temple sacrifices of sheep, grain, frankincense and more. Yet, notwithstanding the course of 3,000 years of pogroms, holocausts and modern anti-semitism, the idea of "sacrifice" has never been a central Judaic motif. We don't see Rabbis sacrificing marital relationships for spiritual commitment, Jewish law sacrificing unpopular mitzvot for more members, or Israel sacrificing land for peace. (woops, just got political there.) If the idea of "sacrifice" is so important to the Creator, why isn't that a central dogma of Judaism?

Let's make this quick. As most things in the Bible, the key lies enwrapped in the word itself. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is "korban." The idea of "sacrifice" seems to imply losing something in order to gain something of more value. Think buying a house, grad school or marriage... (ahem, how'd that get in there?!) Yet, the word actually shares etymological roots with the word "karov" or "come close." In other words, the true meaning of this word is "coming close to the Creator" rather than "sacrificing to the Creator." And, as with most things in life, the key lies in the minutiae of meaning which we appropriate.

The Creator loves when we "come close" and how do we come close to Her?
We come close when we give.

It doesn't matter how much one gives, just that you give. It didn't matter whether your temple gift was a fat sheep or a fresh-from-the-bakery, multigrain, gluten-free, organic, quinoa-cake (Amen!) It didn't even matter if all you could afford was just some sweet smelling frank's (not the dogs, the incense). As long as you gave of what you had to offer, you came close to touching Infinity.

But here's the interesting part. There is something the Creator loves even more than us giving to Her. It's when we give to each other. Hence, the generation of the Tower of Babel was kept alive while the generation of the Flood was washed away. Although the Tower of Babel was built to "wage war against God," they were given life because they acted in a united fashion and were loving unto each other notwithstanding their apostasy. (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a)

Perhaps one can say that to come close to God, we must reach into the deepest part of our souls and for us to reach that far deep, we must reach that far out... to touch another soul with love. If you and I were able to keep this in the forefront of our daily life, how inspirationally "sweet-smelling" would the world be.

Perhaps even sweeter than frankincense.