Pop Parsha: The Book of Mormon

215px-The_Book_of_Mormon_posterA few weeks ago I saw the Book of Mormon at the Orpheum downtown. If you’re familiar with the creators of South Park/Team America/Orgazmo you have a sense of how crude and offensive their new story is. If you went expecting a poetic version of the John Smith story, well, I assume you left after the first 10 minutes. In line with everything Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done in the past, the Book of Mormon musical makes the Book of Mormon religious text sound totally bizarre, outrageous, and of course hilarious. Yet the show is well-researched, and Parker and Stone claim it was created out of love for Mormons and their traditions.
One of these traditions sees the two missionaries at the center of the story commanded to spread the Mormon beliefs around the world.
This week we read parashat Tzav. Tzav opens differently than other parshiyot. Leviticus 6:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: …” Usually, a parsha will open with God saying words like say or speak. For example, in last week’s parsha (Vayikra) Leviticus 1:1 begins, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him…” However, the word command is believed to be blatantly used as a source of emphasis. Rashi notes “Command Aaron. The expression ‘command…’ always implies urging [to fulfill the command] at once, and also for future generations.” And the Baal haTurim adds “This [Command] indicates that the verse means that they should be alacritous regarding studying the Torah and observing all the mitzvoth.”
This urge, and commitment to fulfill the commandments, is seen throughout the play as these missionaries are assigned to go anywhere in the world to seek new followers. Even when the lead character’s dream of landing in Orlando is destroyed and he ends up in Uganda, he happily jets off to help his cause.
The idea of “commandedness” is a tough one for many Jews to follow these days. Often when people speak to us we want to be asked nicely or offered choices. The idea of being told what to do is tough to swallow, whether at home or in the work place.
But imagine feeling that commandedness, then having to bring that to a place with a small amount of followers. Mormon missionaries do that, as do Chabad rabbis. They open up a Chabad house to serve and inspire even a remote amount of people. I hear story after story of a student or congregant who, when traveling, finds a Shabbat meal at a Chabad house anywhere from China to Athens. While I’m not an expert in the Chabad lifestyle, I’m nothing short of inspired by their commitment to specific locations in helping all Jews reach God.
So for those who saw the Book of Mormon, I don’t think the idea that people set out to help guide others is so crazy. Now, of course, I am not giving Parker and Stone any Jewish sequel ideas. But sometimes, even if Chabad is not our personal way of observing, it’s nice to know that anywhere in the world we can find Jews. It is a powerful message that people are willing to spread the word of God as far out as Uganda. One that I imagine Rashi understood to be a part of the future generation’s commandedness.