“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish (Isaiah 29:13.14)’.”
A movie with the title “Snow in August” brings to mind the idea of a miracle. In reality, this made for TV flick from the early part of our new century focuses more on mysticism and magic.
In the movie, Michael Devlin is a boy living in post World War II Brooklyn. The area is not a nice neighborhood by any means.
While in the local grocery, Michael witnesses the terrible beating of the grocer by one of the local young thugs, a punk named Frankie McCarthy.
As the grocer lingers near death, Michael himself is in jeopardy. Frankie and his gang The Falcons threaten him constantly with dire consequences if Michael tells the police what he saw.
Michael is under tons of pressure. He is caught between Frankie’s threats and the police, who know Frankie did the crime, but need a witness.
Not only is he caught between a rock and a hard place, in between The Falcons and the cops, Michael also feels duty-bound by the warped code of ethics existing in his neighborhood. “Squealers” become instant pariahs.
Things get progressively worse for Michael. He is cornered one night by The Falcons and beaten so as to require hospitalization. Another night, both Michael and his mother are attacked by the gang while out walking in the ‘hood (if they called it that back in the 1940s).
What is more, his friends also drop him. Michael thinks this is because his buddies believe he has “squealed” on Frankie, which he hasn’t.
Enter Rabbi Judah Hirsh. The rabbi is an immigrant Czech who befriends Michael during his ordeal,
Rabbi Judah knows trouble. He has experienced the horrors of the Nazis during the war. His wife, was killed by them.
One day, Rabbi Judah tells Michael the story of the Golem of Prague. When Michael sees the picture of the golem in the book the rabbi shows him, his first thought is, “Frankenstein”!
In the Middle Ages, as the fable goes, the golem was created by the late 16th century rabbi of Prague. The golem defended the Jews from the pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon them at the time.
Rabbi Judah seems to give a lot of credence to this story. However, when Michael asks him why he didn’t make one to fend off the Nazis, the rabbi is noncommittal.
Eventually Rabbi Judah himself falls victim to The Falcons. One day they beat him to a pulp and he also ends up in the hospital.
Michael then gets wind from his old friends of a final plot Frankie has devised to get rid of him and his mother. The next Friday night, Frankie plans to come at them with the .38 revolver he has obtained.
Up until this time, Michael has just taken the beatings and provocations Frankie has forced upon him. Now that his mother is thinking of moving because of their environment, and more importantly, because their lives are in danger, Michael decides to act on something he has come to believe: the story of the golem.
Michael goes to the hospital and gets the “recipe” on how to make a golem from Rabbi Judah. He then goes to the empty synagogue where no one comes, where the artifiacts for creating the beast are hidden.
According to the instructions, the golem is to be created out of a box load of dirt. Add a holy scroll to the mouth of the muddy creation, the Hebrew word for “truth” scrawled on its forehead, and some incantations, and the creature is supposed to be given life from on high.
Surpisingly, after hours of hauling soil to the synagogue and following instructions, Michael has his own living golem. It’s off to the pool hall where The Falcons hold court.
When the golem goes public, snow begins to fall on Brooklyn -in the summer. The golem, a smiling, friendly sort not at all like Frankenstein, follows Michael to meet the gang.
Our friendly golem isn’t so nice to The Falcons, though. He follows Michael’s charitable instructions and doesn’t do them any lasting harm, but the gang is defeated, preseumably for good.
Although this is not shown, the golem is sent back to its source. Take away a character from the Hebrew word for “truth” and it becomes “death”, returning the golem back to its lifeless form.
I have to admit, I have mixed emotions about this story. This is because its formula is a mixture of miracle and magic.
Miracles are of course good things. The possibility of the miraculous is one way to interpret “Snow in August”. Michael is rescued by his faith in God’s ability to work through the golem.
Indeed, the movie is a lesson in the successes and failures of faith. In fact, it is revealed at the end of the story why Rabbi Judah didn’t give a good answer to Micheale’s question concerning why he didn’t make a golem to defeat the Nazis and save his wife. When Michael conjures up the golem and defeats The Falcons, the rabbi exclaims to him, “God is real!”
It turns out Rabbi Judah had indeed tried to make a golem back in 1939. He just didn’t have enough faith to make it happen.
Thus, in summary, on the positive end, “Snow in August” teaches the power of belief. It tells us about the power of God to help us in impossible circumstances.
On the other hand, as Martin R. DeHaan II discusses in an article called “Do You Believe in Magic”, what makes one uneasy watching “Snow in August” is the knowledge that trifling with the supernatural has a lot of dangers. DeHaan notes that, especially in our time, what with the interest in the occult, dabbling in such things as Michael did in this flick raises some questions.
DeHaan does mention that there is a difference between magic and fantasy, the latter which I am a big fan of. However, the line is sometimes not easy to discern.
I not only am a big fan of fantasy, but also of words. Thus, it is a good study to try and distinguish between the meaning of words like “miracle” and “magic”. As I have learned in my mini-research, the former infers divine intervention while the latter conveys evil origins.
I studied another word, too. What is fascinating is the development of the term “golem” in the Hebrew language. Originally, ancient Hebrew used it to mean, according to Wikipedia, the term “unformed substance”.
That’s exciting to ponder. The term is used in Psalm 139:16 in the context of God’s forming of us in the womb.
Now, in modern times, the Hebrew term “golem” refers to someone who is “helpless”. It can also refer to a person who is “dumb” (i.e., stupid), “uncultivated’ or “brainless”. But it is the “helpless” aspect I want to look at.
Benedict Carey, a New York Times reporter, wrote another article with the name “Do You Believe in Magic?”. This one discusses the modern day clinging to superstitions and rituals.
Carey reports in this article the scientific view of this kind of belief. He writes that our brains actually have networks predisposed for magical thinking. He also notes that social scientists believe that children transition from “wishing” (e.g., belief in what Santa and the Tooth Fairy bring) to actual faith (e.g., prayer to God).
Carey adds,”Magical thinking is most evident precisely when people feel most helpless.” It is, he writes, this kind of thinking that gives people control of their lives.
Belief in beings like golems for magical assistance is nothing new. The Psalmist records the theological beliefs of the people of his time, and their effects:
“Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them (Psalm 115:3-8).”
These people assigned life and supernatural power to inaminate objects, ones they themselves fashioned. The Psalmist would have used the modern day Hebrew term “golem” to describe them. They were “lunkheads”.
Could it be what scientists have observed about our brain’s capacity to process the magical is really a God-made ability to comprehend Him? If that is so, then we don’t have to be “dopes” when it comes to spiritual things.
The 1960s group The Lovin’ Spoonful wrote a song called “Do You Believe in Magic” to ascribe to music mystical power.
” Do you believe in magic in a young girl’s heart
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it’s magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I’ll tell you about the magic, and it’ll free your soul
But it’s like trying to tell a stranger ’bout rock and roll.”
Music is a source of happiness. I enjoy it. But’s it’s not supernatural.
In our age, though, at least in western society, the philosophers, shrinks and scientists think of people who believe in supernatural power as “golems” at best. At worst, they believe them to be mentally disturbed.
A trait of the depressed is a feeling of helplessness. A belief in magic and supersitions gives the depressed a feeling of control, and gives them their lives back.
Bernard Carey summarizes the view of pragmatic, secularized people in America today regarding magic and the like:
“Reality is the most potent check on runaway magical thoughts, and in the vast majority of people it prevents the beliefs from becoming anything more than comforting — and disposable — private rituals. When something important is at stake, a test or a performance or a relationship, people don’t simply perform their private rituals: they prepare. And if their rituals start getting in the way, they adapt quickly.”
In our performance orientation in America, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. This includes those who all themselves Christians.
In our efforts to rid ourselves of “superstitions” and “magic”, we have tossed the truth of a powerful, omnipotent living God down the drain, also.
Indeed, modern westerners by and large are themselves detached from reality. God is the ultimate reality, and His ability to aid the helpless is one of His major attributes.
Do I believe in magic? No, not in respect to it being a positive influence on my life. I consider the source.
Do I believe in miracles, ones coming from the hand of a living, all powerful God? You bet your bottom dollar I do.
Golems are a stretch in my belief system, and have the taste of extra biblical sorcery which the Scriptures condemn. In this, Rabbi Hirsch was off the mark.
However, the good rabbi does hold one truth I endorse wholeheartedly. God is real! And so are His wonders.