In honor of this odd confluence of holidays — 30 Days of Dead, Chanukah, and Thanksgiving — I offer these thoughts on Jewish worship, text study and the Grateful Dead. It is not necessary to know anything about the (Grateful) Dead or to like them, musically or culturally, to explore this analogy. I’ve been told by fans and non-fans that it is helpful. I hope you enjoy and find it useful and welcome comments.
The material was originally shared at Temple Micah (DC) for Shabbat Shelach in 2011. Here’s the introduction from that dvar torah.
Not Just for Dead Fans
“How the Grateful Dead, Jewish Text and Worship Explain One Another and Raise Interesting Questions.”
There’s a great scene in a fairly silly movie, called Must Love Dogs: The struggling divorced man played by John Cusack is obsessed with the movie Doctor Zhivago. He watches it over and over at home and then drags the young woman he is dating to a revival house to see it. Leaving the theater, the dating couple runs into the romantic lead, played by Diane Lane, who declares that she too loves Doctor Zhivago. She watches it over and over again hoping, she says, “that once Lara and Yuri will get together again…in the springtime preferably. And wear shorts.” The young date responds, “OK, but they can’t because it’s just a movie.”
Of course, Diane Lane and John Cusack do get together, even though things still don’t look so good for Yuri and Lara. And I believe the Must Love Dogs view of Doctor Zhivago has a lot to say about this week’s Torah portion Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42) and about our prayers.
The Torah portion Ki Tavo closes with a wonderfully disorienting perspective, as the reading cycle prepares to leave the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan, while we, as readers, prepare for the new year. Who experienced what in the desert years? Who is about to enter the Promised Land, with instructions for bringing the first fruits? And who is in the exact same spot reached each year at this point, wondering about the meaning of the journey and what chance there is for moving forward?