Rabbi Rosenthal walked down the halls of the Nachmanides School at a rapid clip. Mrs. Weiner had tipped him off to what was going on in Rabbi Levy’s seventh grade class, but he had to see for himself. Surely she must have been mistaken.
He reached Room 118 in about 45 seconds—the school building wasn’t really that large—and glanced through the doorway into the classroom. Sure enough, Mrs. Weiner had been correct. Rabbi Rosenthal knocked gently on the door and motioned for Rabbi Levy to come out.
Menachem Levy exited the classroom with a big smile on his face. He was a fresh-faced recent graduate of the smicha program at Yeshiva University, and he was brimming with enthusiasm for teaching. Rabbi Rosenthal felt he was an excellent addition to the school’s staff.
“Hello, Rabbi Rosenthal.”
The Rabbi could never get the younger teachers to call him by his first name, try as he might. “Hi, Menachem. What’s this I hear about watching a movie with Class 7-3?”
“Well, every once in a while a movie comes along that perfectly epitomizes a particular weekly parsha, and this week I think I got it just right.”
“Yes. And you do encourage us to think outside the box and be creative in out teaching methods.”
“This week, I’m outside the box.”
“Quite,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “In fact, some might think you were outside the warehouse the box was being stored in.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think my choice was inspired.”
“Are you serious, Menachem? Raiders of the Lost Ark for Parshat Terumah?
“I don’t know if ‘serious’ is the word I would choose,” Menachem Levy said, “but I stand by my movie pick.”
“But Menachem, think about what your students’ parents are going to say. There’s gunplay and gratuitous violence. There’s kissing and innuendo. There’s Nazis.”
“I’m pretty sure Steven Spielberg adopts an anti-Nazi stance in the movie, Rabbi Rosenthal. In fact, in one of the sequels, I believe Indiana Jones actually says, ‘Nazis, I hate those guys.’”
“I see you have excellent bekiut in cinema, Menachem.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, I think.”
In the background, a loud explosion and gunfire could be heard emanating from the classroom.
Menachem continued. “The fact is, Raiders is an excellent movie for teaching Parshat Terumah. I mean, I could live without the fist fighting and gunplay, as entertaining as it might be. And I must admit, I love the scene where Harrison Ford is confronted by a large, sword-wielding bandit who is clearly a master of the martial arts and he just pulls his gun and shoots him—“
“Is this going somewhere?”
“Yes, of course. Despite all the violence in the movie, there is that scene near the end where, after the Aron Habrit, the Holy Ark, is appropriated by the Nazis, they open it up in a weird ceremony of Hebrew incantations, including, if my memory serves me correctly, the Birchat Cohanim.
“Suddenly, the special effects set in, and angels emanate from the Ark. Then something like the Hollywood version of the Hand of God appears, and kills all the Nazis in spectacular fashion.
“In that scene, I’ve always felt I could finally understand what it might have been like when Hashem states in the parsha, ‘Veno’aditi lecha sham, vedibarti itcha meyal hakaporet. It is there I will set my meetings with you, and I will speak to you from atop the cover.’ Hashem would appear to Moshe at the ark, but what was that like?
“For the students, the parshiyot about the mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert, can often seem dry, but that scene in the movie brings it all to life and let’s imagine not only how the ark might have looked, but what communicating with Hashem in the Mishkan might have been like. It isn’t accurate, of course, but if for just a second you are immersed in the movie magic of the scene and believe it’s happening, then you can better appreciate what the parsha is describing.”
“Hmmm, interesting,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “And you feel watching the entire movie is warranted, just for experiencing that one scene?”
The theme music of the movie burst from the classroom in stereophonic sound.
“Yes. With the proper classroom discussion and the right attitude, it will stimulate the students’ imagination and allow for a deeper understanding of Hashem’s presence in the Mishkan.”
“O.K., you’ve convinced me,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “And when parents call to question your pedagogic method, I’ll support you.”
“Thank you, Rabbi.”
“But Menachem, this does not mean I approve of Mr. Ed reruns during the Bilaam story or a spy thriller when the miraglim episode comes up in Shlach.”
“How about Irwin Allen’s Earthquake for Parshat Korach?” Menachem Levy asked. “Or the Towering Inferno for the story of Nadav and Avihu?”
Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics
By Larry Stiefel