Disclaimer: I believe clapping makes Tinkerbell better. I believe pixie dust can make you fly, and I cry when Tink flies from the castle at night. I also believe that Hippogriffs can fly, I would love an invisibility cloak, and wizards like Harry Potter and his friends can defeat darkness.
I’ve had a magical week. Now, granted, any time your adult daughter actually chooses to take a vacation with her mother, it’s pretty magical. But more to the point, I’ve spent the week in magical environments: Disneyworld and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m no expert on Harry Potter, but the above-mentioned daughter is, which is why we were in Florida with her dear friend and fellow Potter-phile, along with her mom (my dear friend).
I got to thinking about magic and ritual and Vayikra, this week’s parasha and the beginning of the entire book of Vayikra, Leviticus. So, over butterbeers at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, we asked about the similaritiesand differences between Disney magic, Potter magic and the rituals laid out in the Vayikra.
First of all, in no way do I relate Torah and Vayikra with magic. I repeat: Vayikra isn’t about magic. But bear with me…I think there’s a difference between Disney magic and Harry magic. With Disney magic, you wish for dreams to come true (and of course, sing about it!). The Disney dreams are usually about yourself – make me a real boy, send me my Prince Charming. And in truth, at the Magic Kingdom, everybody really is happy! When you believe (or if you prefer, “buy into it”), people around you are smiling, helpful, and patient in lines. Belief improves the workings of the community.
Harry’s magic is in a secret, parallel universe to ours, the Muggle world. But in that world, it’s a regular life. Parents go to work, and children go to school. The young witches and wizards are born with magical gifts, but then they have to learn the rules and rituals that go along with those gifts. There are potions to learn, spells to practice, and limits to obey. The gift of magical birth doesn’t necessarily make their world better; magic just is. But when bad things happen, they can use their gifts (including commitment and courage) to stop them, and they are better wizards for it. We Muggles just can’t know about the inner workings.
So now we come to Vayikra. Ramban calls this book Torat Kohanim, a Priestly How-to Manual. The people born to this life (for it is an inherited status) learn how to do priest-things correctly. Offerings are made, thanks are given, guilt is absolved, and the ordered life of the community goes on, with roles and rules well-proscribed. And the inner workings of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) are known only to those born into the life, and have learned the rules.
Vayikra is not magic, as I said. God didn’t set up the system so people could come to the Priest, say a special set of words, the priest waves his hands, and Poof! Wish granted. Rather, Vayikra rituals are about getting closer to God. You can change your personal holiness-status from “far away from God” to “closer to God”, through your offering, (today read: prayer) because the “magic” (i.e., the status-change) is affected by you and through you.
So, perhaps Vayikra = Disney + Harry. Disney magic is based on community willingness to believe, which changes behavior for the better. Harry magic is based on inherited skill that has strict rules. Vayikra needs both. Judaism doesn’t believe wishing works…we must act. And our how-to manual (Torah) continues to tell us how to that, as Vayikra continues.
And by the way, butterbeer is delicious!