I’m in another show. I know this is not a shock to most of you. And, it shouldn’t be a shock to know that I’ve been thinking about this connection between the show and where we are in the Torah cycle right now.
The show is “The Secret Garden” and the Torah cycle places us at Vayetzei, (Gen 28:10 – 32:3) when Jacob is tricked by his soon-to-be father in law Laban into marrying Leah, sister of the one he truly loves, Rachel. Eventually, Jacob does marry Rachel. They struggle with infertility, as so many of the Biblical couples do. Rachel dies in childbirth, having finally given birth to two sons – Joseph and Benjamin.
There is tremendous rivalry between the sisters, too. It gets to the point where Leah actually bribes her sister with mandrakes to let Jacob spend the night with her. This is a family with a lot of secrets and questions, burdened for years with pain and division. Why didn’t Leah say anything when she was given to Jacob on their wedding night? Surely she knew she wasn’t the first choice. Did Rachel feel superior to Leah as the “loved” wife, even though Leah had so many more children? Did they ever talk about it? Certainly, the children sensed the rifts, because they really took it out on Joseph (stay tuned..oh, well you know what happens if you’ve seen the movie.)
In “The Secret Garden”, young Mary Lennox is suddenly orphaned by the cholera in India, and is shipped off to her lonely, sad Uncle Archibald in Yorkshire. Archie mourns his true love Lily, who died in childbirth. The child, Colin, was fragile at birth, but is kept in his room, secreted away, talked about by no one. Archie’s brother Neville (who also loved Lily) has convinced everyone that the boy will die, or at the very least, be crippled like Archie. Neville has the whole household in on the secret, punishing his brother and young nephew with his bitterness, for his own unrequited love. It isn’t until Mary comes to their home that she begins uncovering the secrets in so many places, bring light into the dark corners and hope into the places left neglected. Neville is undone, and Archie and Colin find each other again, with Mary to guide them back to their love for each other and Lily. Mary is healed in the process and the family begins anew.
There are so many elements in common between the two stories, which is, of course, what makes them good stories. Like Archie and Neville, Jacob and Esau are brothers torn apart by secrecy and deception. Both Rachel and Leah love the same man, as Archie and Neville both love Lily. Mothers die in childbirth. And families are rent apart and sewn back together.
If you read my blogs regularly, you know I believe two things: all of life can be related to musical theater, and all of life can be related to the Torah (not necessarily in that order. Ok maybe. Well, maybe not…very, very close.) The stories within speak to real human dilemmas, real human circumstances. There is hope for Jacob and Rachel and Leah, though it takes their families generations to work through it all. Mary and Archie and Colin go through it more quickly – the show is only two acts. Mary learns that when a thing is “wick”, when it has a bit of life still hidden inside, and if you look for it, tend it, it will grow. Ultimately, the power of love and family can prevail, teach us how to live more kindly with each other, find the life and love hidden within, and be aware of the ripple effect, both good and ill, that our actions have.
If you’re in the Chicago area,…come see the show! And even if you’re not….read this week’s parasha!