Black Panther

Black Panther

Recently, a Bat Mitzvah, Shoshana Fleishman, asked me to talk about one of the Marvel superhero movies. Since I go to all these movies with my marvel-ous grandchildren, I had my pick, and I chose Black Panther, which was one of the biggest movies of all time.

In this obviously mythical but still interesting and fun scenario, we go back thousands of years ago, when five African tribes warred over a meteorite containing a fictional metal called vibranium. One warrior ingests a “”heart-shaped herb” affected by the metal and gains superhuman abilities, becoming the first “Black Panther”. He unites most of the tribes to form the nation of Wakanda. Over the centuries, the Wakandans use the vibranium to develop advanced technology and
isolate themselves from the world by posing as a povertystricken Third World country.

The movie’s plot revolves around a really interesting issue: Should Wakanda share its technology with the world or should it protect itself and its people from the

One side of the debate says that Wakanda’s technology should be shared with people of African descent around the world to help them conquer their oppressors. It is painful, really painful, to hear a character talk about the way people of African descent have been persecuted in many countries through the centuries.

The other side, including the king, says that the technology will be used for evil and violent purposes and so it must not be shared with the world. They must keep
it secret from the world.

In the end, even though the king wins the contest against the proponents of using the technology, he appears before the United Nations to reveal Wakanda’s true nature to the world.

Black Panther was not just another superhero movie; it was critically acclaimed for many reasons. For one, it created a fictional past that promoted black pride at a time when people feel forced to insist that black lives matter.

The Jewish people have their own vibranium, but it’s not fictional and it’s not a metal. But it is what makes us important. It’s called the Torah, the Words of G-d. When the very first Hebrew was called by G-d, it was to be a blessing to the nations. Abraham was not called to create a Wakanda that was isolated and hidden from the world. Abraham was instructed to bring faith and morality to all the nations.

When G-d delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the event that we celebrate on Pesach, many non-Israelites, called the Arev rav, the “mixed multitude,”
came with them. We are always reaching out. We are always bringing others along.

Think about one of the most important lines in the Haggadah: Kol Dichfin Yetei Veyeikhol: “All who are hungry come and eat.” At the beginning of the Seder, we
invite those who are needy to join us at the Seder table. This is why we have a Community Seder here at our shul. And we do not charge anything, even though it’s a fully catered meal.

It’s more than symbolism: It’s inviting everyone to join with us and help us to remember our story of slavery and redemption.

We sing: Avadim Hayyinu; “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
But we do not just remember a story that happened thousands of years ago.
We think about today.
Passover is an opportunity to do an inventory of our freedoms. What does it mean to be free? And what is the relationship of freedom to responsibility?
Wakanda struggled to figure out what to do with their gifts. For thousands of years, they hid their gifts from the world. I know that it’s just a movie. But even as a movie, even though it’s made up, we disagree with the idea of just taking care of yourself and letting the rest of the world go up in smoke. 
Jewish people knew what to do with their gifts from the very beginning.
We’re Jewish in order to help others.
We remember that we were slaves in Egypt.
We eat the bitter herbs.
We eat the parsley dipped in salt water that symbolizes our tears.
We eat matzah, the bread of affliction.
We don’t just do this as a re-enactment of a historical event that happened 3250 years ago.
We do it so that we will relate to the people of our time and our community who are suffering right now, who are hungry right now.
There’s no such thing as vibranium.
But we have a vibrant religion and culture that has been doing good for others for thousands of years.
Even when the world turns its back on us, we never turn our back on the world.
We do not hide our gifts.
We share our gifts of faith and justice and kindness as part of our mission to make our world a better place.

Rabbi Scolnic