Lech Lecha 5783: Abraham as the prototype for the MCU?
What do you create next after you’re done making the greatest cinematic conclusion in the history of entertainment? Marvel Studios is trying to figure that out, and to mixed reviews. In the post-Endgame world, Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has introduced us to Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, a new Captain America, and so many more, but fans are trying to find the coherent narrative underneath it all, the larger story that it all builds to. Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the MCU, has told us that this phase is all about introductions, but that doesn’t stop us from asking: where does this all lead?
I actually felt similarly when reading this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha. Obviously, I know where this is going; we’ve been reading the same book over and over for thousands of years, so spoilers aren’t really the issue. But much like the past two years of superhero projects, this portion feels like a collection of backstory fodder.
We move quickly from one anecdote to the next. Avram is introduced, he ventures to Egypt, he makes a pact with his nephew, he rescues his nephew, he fathers a child with his servant, his name is changed by God, and he performs delicate surgery, all in one section. When read as a whole, it can feel almost slapdash, disjointed, and not the least bit overwhelming. But with context, we see not only the way this section helps to push our larger narrative forward, but also the ways we see Jewish culture come into existence.
In order for the Torah to move from a story of the origins of the larger world (think Adam and Eve) to that of a single nation (think Moses and the Israelites), we have to have a guiding patriarch, one who helps to codify the way we track our ancestry, establish our connection with God, and introduce customs like ritual circumcision. We’ve learned a lot about how to do this over time; the Easter Eggs in the MCU giving hints and nods to different elements of the story are, at times, far more sophisticated than the editorial work we see in the Bible. (After all, why do we have the story of the patriarch passing off his wife as his sister three different times? But that’s for another post).
There’s a reason that this section feels like a Marvel movie; throughout history, we have used storytelling as the language for how we make sense of our values and our conflicts. We use characters to help us process the most complex realities of our world, and how to understand out battle between what is right and wrong. Abraham was the prototype for a legendary Jewish superhero, and it is no coincidence that most of the greatest comic book heroes were created by Jews. And so, in this early phase, we get all kinds of adventures, detailing the journey that led the hero to power, and helping to introduce to us why our hero is complex, relatable, and admirable. Because we can’t get to where we eventually need to be without a well-crafted origin story.